Veteran from Eye remembers D-Day landings on return to Normandy
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017
Seventy-three summers ago, in the pre-dawn hours, planes rumbled down runways, gliders and paratroopers slipped through the sky, an armada turned the Channel black with ships and more than 150,000 brave souls set off towards a tiny sliver of sand upon which hung the course of freedom and history.
They were the men and women who defied every danger for the survival of liberty at its moment of maximum peril and within a month of D-Day in June 1944, a million Allied troops had thundered through Normandy into Europe after the tides had turned on that fateful day.
Alan King, from Eye, remembers the choppy seas and the violent sea-sickness which heralded D-Day: 'when we arrived and saw the beach it was covered in smoke and flame, there were fires burning everywhere. The RAF had been bombing the beach. We thought 'oh no, we've got to land in all that!' but we were all so seasick we were just glad to get off the ship.
'It was still early, just beginning to get light. We were about a mile offshore. They brought the raft round to the front of the ship and dropped the ramp from the ship onto the raft and drove the lorry on first then two tanks either side of it, my tank was one of those. We started to move towards the beach; the German light guns opened fire.
'The lorry was hit; bullets were bouncing off the tanks. The fitter's lorry, full of tools and equipment to repair the tanks, caught fire, the crew jumped off to shelter and the tank behind the lorry had to push it off the raft as it would have taken us all out if it had exploded. When the tide went out the next day the fitters were able to salvage their kit from the lorry.
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'On the way in the HMS Warspite opened fire, a full broadside. The noise can't be described. That was the signal to start. A small boat full of infantrymen alongside us was hit by German shellfire, it sank and the soldiers were thrown into the sea.
'Some were already dead, some were injured, they were floundering and trying to save themselves but the ship behind went right over them. The propellers cut them to pieces. There were heads, bodies, legs in the sea, it was a terrible sight. I've never been in the sea since.
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'We hit the beach near what they call Canada House. The beach master was shouting orders to fire but we couldn't, none of us could. We blundered up the beach and found our way into a depression in the sand under a hail of bullets.
'Four tanks had landed, the wireless operators were trying to get in touch with the regiment, we couldn't reach them because the rest of our regiment hadn't landed. All that I could here on the radio was a lot of bad language!
'There were English troops all round us but none of us were in the positions we were supposed to be in so none us knew what we were supposed to do. Most of the rest of my regiment eventually came in later in the day further east on Sword beach.'
After a food drop and a much-needed meal, Alan and his company advanced towards Caen. His French crewmate, who had recognised Caen on false maps during training was killed the next day by Panzers just a few miles from his family home. His unit went on to liberate the area around Cambes-en-Plein and then fought in Operation Charnwood on the outskirts of Caen before crossing the Rhine into Germany in early 1945.
Today he will be in Arromanches with his comrades, remembering those who didn't come home and those that did, but bore the scars of war - physical and emotional - throughout their lives.
'We come back to remember them and to make sure that others remember too,' he said, 'the legacy of those who have passed must remain.'