It is that time of year when I take a bit of time to contemplate on an awesome period of time I spent with some truly remarkable ladies and gentlemen. These Ladies and gentlemen were members of the Normandy Veteran’s Association.
I was doing my undergraduate dissertation and decided it would be on oral testimonies. So having an interest in WW2 and a local branch of the NVA I decided to put the two together.
I spent a couple of afternoon sessions with them which I will always remember with a great fondness as they took a kid into their midst and told me their tales, some had us roaring and laughing and others had us all in tears, the memory of the latter has me snivelling a bit as I type this.
Let us take a gentleman called Geordie to his friends, a nickname no doubt from his location of Newcastle (my neck of the woods as a youth).
His tale unfolded like this.
” I had to land on a beach called Mike Green, so I looked over the side as I came in and saw smoke everywhere, This navy guy shouts good luck lads and drops the ramp. Some bugger started shooting at us so I lowped (leapt) over the side hit the water and waded ashore. I legged it up the beach and hoyed myself down and started shooting at Germans. All of a sudden this medic appears and shouts ‘Howay son you goin’ home!’ ‘Bugger off said I, I am shootin German’s!’ He then said that with bullets whistling around his ears knelt up to prove the point. The medic pushed him back down and said look at your leg you daft bugger. He looked down and could see his thigh bone. As he had gone over the side he had caught himself a whallop on a metal tank trap. As he said himself, after seeing his leg he felt a little queer and agreed that off the beach was a good idea. At this point another veteran pipes up.. have you got a hole in your leg? Well Bugger me – so do I. At which point both gentlemen dropped their trousers and compared their war wounds. The second gentleman was “shot at by some bugger with a 37mm AT gun” that missed him, ricocheted off a cobblestone and came straight up his leg. These two had known each other for years and had never shared the information.
Another one promised his mother that he wouldn’t get shot so spent his first night in France asleep in a metal dustbin.
One mentioned a cock up of them almost landing on Omaha, but an admiralty barge came out full of wounded and ordered them to bugger off, turn about and head to their own bloody beach. He said he looked over the side and saw all this muck and shite flying into the air and thought ‘oh my god, what is going to happen here!’
Another gentleman landed with the paratroopers at Ranville. They met up at Pegasus bridge and was there to watch Lovett’s commando’s marching along the river, piper out front and all in their soft hats. The German’s started shooting at them and they tried to give cover fire. At 14.30 the first tanks reached them. They had been ordered to take and hold the crossroads a couple of miles beyond the town. His CO requested they stay as Jerry were preparing for a counterattack. The tanks refused and pushed on. He said there were three loud bangs in the distance and three columns of smoke. As he said himself ‘ A German Anti tank gun got them, knocked the three out and we couldn’t do a bloody thing to help them at all. Hopeless!’ Same gentleman explained that they were all in Stirling Bombers to jump out of as a way to confuse the enemy.
Another was somewhat miffed that his unit had been attached to the Canadians and had fought alongside them for the duration of the campaign and that The Canadian’s got all the credit.
The one thing that stuck in my mind was that there was no animosity towards the enemy even to people who had lost close friends. As one veteran of the 49th Division said of the Germans. ‘They were good…. bloody good fighters and we had a lot of respect for them as soldiers.’
A well known photo next…
Evidently the guy on the left of the photo facing the camera is a Shetlander… how bizarre is that.
Finally a photo of a photocopy of a photo…one of my relations in France.