6 June 1944 was D-Day, one of the most memorable wartime operations ever planned and executed. Called Operation Overlord, it was started the allied liberation of north-west Europe and was instrumental in leading to the end of the Second World War.
There have been many books, films and television programmes made about D-Day and each one of the hundreds of thousands of people involved in the overall operation has a story to tell.
Below is a selection of veterans' stories, many of which have appeared in the Badge of Honour section of our Legion magazine. Each one is a unique insight into that memorable occasion in June 1944.
Gunner, Royal Marines, HMS Mauritius
Len Bloomfield was in the Royal Marines on board HMS Mauritius during the full four days of the D-Day landings providing Artillery Troop Support. In 2014 he returned to Normandy with our Remembrance Travel tour and we followed him as he remembered those history-changing days 70 years previously and met with other veterans.
Sadly Len passed away on 10 November 2014.
Len was a member of the Legion, and regularly gave educational talks to schools. His local school 'adopted' him as their war hero. He was also a volunteer member of the learning team at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.
"He touched the lives of everyone that knew him and helped the Legion to get the message of Remembrance out to a lot of youngsters. "Lynn Scarrott, Legion Membership Support Officer - Norfolk
View the video story of Len's visit to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day below.
Len served in the Royal Marines, joining the corps in March 1939. Throughout the Second World War he served all over the world including the Arctic Circle, Africa and the Mediterranean.
Len was off the coast of Sicily when he witnessed the dive bombing of Talamba Hospital Ship, used to treat and evacuate personnel, by enemy aircraft. After two years away, Len returned to the UK with his fleet to prepare for D-Day in August 1943. He had some time to see his wife and family before the campaign got underway.
Len was a gunner on HMS Mauritius, which was positioned in the English Channel providing artillery support to the landing ships on Sword Beach. From his position on the cruiser, Len witnessed the devastation on the beaches and praised the air support which came over – 500 aeroplanes providing support to the land and sea attack.
HMS Mauritius kept up a continuous bombardment of German position and could fire with 4 and 6 inch guns as far inland as Caen. The cruiser was in position from 6 June to 23 August.
Following the Normandy landings, Len returned home to continue working with the Navy in a land based job and was able to spend time with his family. He was the proud recipient of 6 campaign stars, including the most recently awarded Arctic Star (2013).
Lance Corporal, 3rd British Infantry Division
Denis BowaterI was a driver, part of 185 Infantry Brigade, attached to an infantry division because I was in REME. I drove a Leyland, which strangely enough was called Dennis like me, but with two 'n’s instead of one. We had to look after and repair the vehicles if they were broken down or anything like that, and we would build an area of workshops as we moved through the continent, repairing all the equipment that was damaged or broken.
On the day of the beach landings, it was still dark when we got in the tank landing craft at Newhaven. It was a flat-bottomed boat that held about 25 soldiers. We left early in the morning, about five or six o'clock, and we were elated – but then again we didn't know what we were going to. They wouldn't tell us. We were in a security camp in the Brighton area before we went over to Normandy so we couldn't talk to anyone.
"It was chaos when we first landed..."Denis Bowater
The crossing was a bit rough. We were feeling seasick because the boat was going up and down, zigzagging across the Channel. We had some food, a tin of soup, McConickers they called it. It was a tin with a tube going down the centre and when you pulled the ring on top of the tin, it warmed up the soup inside. When we landed, it was on Sword Beach, the one closest to Caen. The front of the boat went down and I got out, wading ashore while my unit sergeant drove the vehicle off the landing craft onto the beach. I had to go forward to guide him through the water because the landing craft couldn't go right up to the beach.
Sometimes it was yards away from the beach and you had to go through water. Sometimes the vehicle entered a dip and you had to get it towed. We had waterproofed the engines before we came over from England, but some of the vehicles got stuck in the sand and stalled in the water. Not all of them, but there were a few incidents where water got into the engine.
I was soaking wet because he kept getting stuck in the sand but I guided him on to the beach, then got in and took over the driving. It was chaos when we first landed because noone knew where to go. There were hundreds of us, it was such a mix-up. That’s why there was a beachmaster dug in on the beach, his job was to give us all instructions of where to go. There was a bugler there as well.
We knew we were going into a bit of trouble, but we didn’t know what it was until we landed on the beaches. The enemy was shooting at us as soon as we landed, red-hot bullets coming over our heads. We could see where the bullets were coming from, but not the enemy, they were too far away.
We had to keep our heads down all the time as we crawled along the beach. We all had our instructions and a map reference to go to a particular area inland where we would come together as a unit because we had all landed individually. We managed it all right and got on through.
"We were tired and bedraggled, it was very uncomfortable because we were getting fired at all the time by red tracer bullets coming from the German lines."Denis Bowater
We were soaking wet with wading ashore, so we got ourselves together in an orchard. We were tired and bedraggled, it was very uncomfortable because we were getting fired at all the time by red tracer bullets coming from the German lines. We had to rest and try to get something to eat and some sleep if we could.
I had a close friend, his name was Wally Poingar, a Welshman. We were sat against a tree in the orchard when he got up. He trod on a mine. It blew his legs off. It could have happened to me, but it happened to him, and it upset me so much when he went.
He was sent to a local hospital that they had to rig up in tents. I don’t know if he was sent home because once he left the unit, I lost contact. But his people wrote to me until the war ended and I heard through them that he'd died.
I lost a good many pals there. I'm lucky to have got through it and I'm very thankful.
Leading Aircraftman, 146 Typhoon Wing
In the run up to D-Day, my wing was based along the south coast of England. While waiting to go over, many of us had read a newspaper account of the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, informing Parliament he planned to go to Normandy with the troops. But he was forced to abandon the idea in the face of stiff opposition.
Our turn came and we arrived in Normandy around two weeks after the invasion, attached to the Canadian First Army. There were a number of squadrons in the one wing and I was part of 257 Burma Squadron, working as an aircraft fitter on the typhoons.
Around 50 of us landed in a field on the edge of a lovely village called St Croix-sur-Mer, right on the coast. By the time we arrived, the ground had been cleared, along with all the Germans. Behind the main body of the wing we had a detachment of the REMEs who as soon as we landed and the aircraft had departed, started laying a temporary landing strip – metal sheets hooked together and laid out on the grass to take out the bumps and hollows.
One morning I was working on one of the aircraft when word went round: “Winnie’s here!” We downed tools and headed for the beach. None of us knew he was coming, noone at all. The first sighting was of him coming up the beach – he was recognised immediately of course.
When I got there, the Prime Minister, as large as life, was walking towards us. He was entirely by himself, no guards, no officers, a lone figure walking up the beach. When he reached us, somebody shouted for a box for him to stand on so we could all see him. He accepted the invitation immediately and climbed on, and gave us an off the cuff talk, which didn’t last very long, probably two to three minutes.
Roughly 30 to 40 people had gathered around, welcoming him. We were all so interested in looking at him, we didn’t bother looking for any ships on the Channel itself, we were just pleased to see him. He was smiling, completely natural, and as delighted to meet us as we were him.
I'm 92 and my memory has been shot to bits, so exactly what he said I cannot remember. But I know it was a pleasing encounter, it was a visit we were proud to have. We admired his pluck – old Winnie as usual wouldn’t be put off by anyone, he had made the visit despite opposition.
Following his address he was spirited away quickly by a few officers. We reckoned he had hitched a lift in a motor torpedo boat. The talk around the camp was of the fact that he’d gone to so much trouble to come over and carry out what he originally intended to do – visit the troops in Normandy. It showed us that we had his personal support, and it was a real boost.
I hadn't realised at the time but a photographer had turned up and not long afterwards, reprints were given to anyone in the wing who wanted them. This picture of him addressing us is my most treasured photograph and I hope there are many of my old colleagues who are still alive and will enjoy seeing it again. I would like to include a tribute to everyone from 146 Wing – in particular my two friends who did not return, William J Noble of Inverness and Sidney Poile of Beckley in East Sussex.
Seaman, Coastal Forces, ML143 of the 5th ML Flotilla
The Coastal Forces involved the smaller boats. I went down to Newhaven and joined Motor Launch 143 of the 5th ML Flotilla. The MLs did everything – air sea rescue, patrolling, escorting through the Channel and the North Sea. Then we had sweeps fitted, ready for the invasion.
Everything was so secret we didn't know what we were doing. In the run-up to the landings, the south coast was absolutely piled high with Navy, Army and Air Force. Not just on the coast, but well back inland and all under man-made smoke. You couldn't see the land in front of you almost, it was so dense.
On 5 June we sailed out from Portland but the Channel was too rough for the landing crafts. We got halfway and were recalled. We came back into harbour, but by this time it was daylight and there was a sea of red crosses! Red cross trains, ambulances, ships, everything was red cross. That's when we said,
"Bloody hell! This is the real thing."Ivor Stephens
The next day when we went over, we knew where we were going. We got under way at 0230 hours. This time we swept over to the Normandy beaches. There were 12 boats in our flotilla, four of us went to Omaha. Our skipper was the senior officer so we led the way for the landings and were the first one over.
I can't describe what it was like. There was so much activity, nothing but action. There were about 5,000 ships, aircraft, ships with balloons on, such a mixture. I was a gunner on a twin Oerlikon cannon – usually I was on lookout on the gun, four hours on, fours hours off, day and night. But for the landings we were all on duty and being the gunner, I was on the upper deck. We were close to the shore the whole time so could see quite a bit of it.
The ML143 was a small boat. We weren't big enough for the Germans to want to shell us. The big ships were firing and shells were whizzing over the top of us in both directions, not dropping on us, thank goodness. But we didn't do any firing.
"I didn't fire a shot on D-Day, there was too much action concentrated on the beaches instead."Ivor Stephens
At first it was on the Navy, but when they started landing it switched to the Army. When the landing crafts came in, they dropped the ramps, the soldiers ran out up the beach and it seemed like half the poor buggers were being mown down. We could see it all, it wasn't good.
Once the Army had moved inland we went into the ports and harbours along the French coast, sweeping so we could get supplies over. Two or three days after D-Day, we were sweeping Cherbourg. As the tide went down and we could no longer sail over the mines, we had to come out of the harbour. We were the senior boat so we led the way.
We came out through the breakwater and anchored.
Another boat came and tied up against us, then another one, then the 137, but before she had time to tie up, another one, I think it was American, hit a mine, so she had to go and pick up survivors, and while she was doing that another one hit a mine, then another. I saw three ships go down in nine minutes.
I didn't appreciate it at the time, but the English Channel was one of the worst places to be in the war. It's only 21 miles from Dover to Calais and we were in range of the French guns all the time. Shellings, bombs, submarines, mines – we had it all to contend with. There was a hell of a lot of action in that Channel.
Private, 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders
Following the landings, the battalion pushed inland through Bretteville and by mid-July we were dug in at the little town of Baron-sur-Odon, where our Brigadier was killed. We were under constant shellfire and things were pretty bad, but despite that we still had a few lighter moments.
One of my best pals was Bill Williams, who had transferred with me from The Buffs to the Gordon Highlanders. His name was really Roy but we all called him Bill. He was 27, quite a bit older than me. He wasn’t a big man, short like myself, and was always pleasant. One day Bill cut my hair, but all we had was an old pair of scissors, no clippers, so it took him a long time and we joked and laughed about it.
We were all exhausted from the constant shelling and sometimes we would just drop off to sleep in the trench where we stood. One day, it was a date I have never forgotten, Sunday 16 July 1944, I had dozed off and when I woke, I saw somebody lying lifeless on the trench parapet, and one of my trench pals said, 'it’s Bill’. He had been killed by a shell blast.
"Despite the still heavy shelling, we took Bill out and buried him where he fell, more or less."Tommy Nicholls
There were no trees, just a wire fence. I picked up an ear of corn from the ground where we buried him, I still have it and treasure it in remembrance of Bill. We looked for something to make a cross to mark his grave so that he might be recovered and buried properly later, but all we could find were a couple of small twigs. Bill's body was never recovered.
I made a promise to myself that if I managed to get home safely, I would contact Bill's family and tell them he was buried in as decent a way as was possible at that time. A short time later, I was wounded and they ferried all of us wounded out to a hospital ship laying some distance offshore on Landing Craft Tanks. A Sergeant on the LCT told me he had Bill's wedding ring and before Bill died, he'd had just enough breath in his body to say he wanted his ring to be taken home to his wife.
I was one of the lucky ones who did make it home. I tried and tried to keep my promise to trace Bill's family, but didn't have very much information about him. All I knew was that he was really Roy Williams, from Cornwall, married with a son. Many years later, my daughter took me back to Normandy and it upset me to see his name on the Memorial at Bayeux War Cemetery but with no grave.
We went to Baron and I tried to remember exactly where we had been, but it is just open farmland. I realised later that we were in the right area, but possibly on the wrong side of the road. I wrote to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for any information they could tell me about him and found for the first time that his full name was Roy Lorraine Williams, husband of Mrs D Williams from Trispen in Cornwall. Now that was a strange coincidence – I never knew his second name was Lorraine, but that is what my wife and I had named our daughter!
In June 2011 I told my Regimental Association Secretary my story and he said he'd see what he could find out. On 2 July, he phoned and told me he had just been speaking to Bill's son, Michael, and that Michael would like to speak to me. I was shocked – in just over a week he had been able to trace Bill's family, which I hadn't been able to do in the 67 years since that terrible Sunday. I didn't know what I was going to say to Michael when I phoned, but I was relieved that I could at last tell him that his dad had been laid to rest in as dignified a way as possible. Unfortunately, Bill's wife – Michael's mother – had passed away in 2010. I asked Michael if his dad's ring ever did get back to his mother, he didn't know but he did say that he had his father's wallet, so it is just possible that the ring did also get back to her.
Coder, HMS Lawford
I was fast asleep when the bombs struck my ship, in the early hours of 8 June 1944, off Arromanches. HMS Lawford had been the command ship for the first assault group on Juno Beach two days earlier, but she was now carrying out patrols to protect the anchorage off the Normandy coast.
We were in two watches for this operation: four hours on, four hours off. I’d come off the middle watch at 4am and was away in the land of nod.
When we were woken up by a loud bang, my first reaction was one of resentment. Something must have happened, and I supposed I would be expected to turn to. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that the ship might be in danger – that didn’t happen until I started to make my way up the companion from the deserted mess deck. Then I discovered that our Captain-class frigate was listing to starboard at an alarming degree.
The scene as I emerged onto the quarterdeck was one of confusion: there were men and carley floats – a kind of liferaft – in the water while more men were jumping over the side. I joined a small group who were unsure whether or not the order had been given to abandon ship. At that point, the coxswain came to the port wing of the bridge and announced: "If you want to save the ship, all spare hands muster on the fo’ocs!". We all made our way along the port side, but from time to time, the ship would give a further lurch to starboard.
"I’m not sure how long we spent in the water."Ian Gordon
Finally, another voice from the bridge: "She’s going, sir." Next voice: "Abandon ship!" I’m not sure how long we spent in the water. I was clinging to some rolled-up scrambling net, but eventually we were picked up by a minesweeper, HMS Pique.
Later we were transferred to another vessel, the cruiser HMS Scylla. Their skipper suggested to our fellow survivor, Captain Pugsley, that he find himself another ship and get back onto it as soon as possible. This meant his surviving signals staff, of whom I was one, would have to accompany him.
We were then transferred to another cruiser, HMS Frobisher, busily shooting up targets ashore before heading back to Portsmouth for more ammunition.
After a brief leave, I found myself aboard the frigate HMS Waveney, spending a fortnight patrolling the Normandy anchorage. Two months later I was on my sixth vessel in as many months – part of HNoMS Tunsberg Castle of the Royal Norwegian Navy. We were engaged on North Atlantic convoy escort duties.
In November 1944, we were ordered to join the escort of Convoy JW62, bound for Murmansk. Our first operation was to lead a task force to enter Batsfjord on Norway’s northern coast. There was one small snag – Norway was occupied by the enemy. We never made it anyway. Our ship struck a mine somewhere near the fjord entrance, and sank.
Fast forward to August 1945 and I was a member of a Combined Operations beach signals landing party, boarding a landing craft carrier in Bombay. As we made our way up the gangway, we were aware of the local Indian newspaper rushing out a special edition. The Allies had dropped a huge bomb on Japan, it said, and the Japanese had capitulated.
We didn’t believe it. Then suddenly, our ship began blowing V-for-Victory on the whistle. All the other Allied ships did the same. The world would never be the same again, but for us, it meant the end of the war. I was 20 years old and could look forward to the rest of my life… it was wonderful!
Find out more about how Normandy veterans can travel back to Normandy for free with LIBOR funded tours from Remembrance Travel.