Normandy Veterans' VE Day Memories 75 Years On
On the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, the Trust is delighted to shared some memories of Normandy Veterans.
George Batts MBE Leg d’Hon
Patron, Normandy Memorial Trust
For the citizens of all the participating countries it was such a relief and a cause to celebrate that the war in Europe was over. No more bombings, no more V1 or V2s, no more loss of life, no more unwanted bad news telegrams and no more members of the Armed Forces being told that a loved one was dead, and the beginning of the return to a normal life. However it must be remembered that the war in the Far East was still in progress and service people were still dying.
From my personal point of view I was lucky that I was at home way out in the Sussex countryside with my parents. My Unit of Royal Engineers had returned from the European conflict during April to prepare to take part in the invasion of Malaya in anticipation of ending the war against the Japanese and thus have peace throughout the world.
A lot of Canadians forces were in the area and they arranged a massive bonfire, food, singing and dancing and all the local villagers were invited. I did not go but spent the day quietly at home remembering all my relations, friends and comrades who had been killed or otherwise affected not only in the actual conflict but in the bombings etc in this country. It was a wonderful day and will live in my mind forever.
Two days later I was on my way to Liverpool to board a troopship for India and thence to Malaya etc returning home two and half years later.
But that is another story.
The below memories are shared with kind permission from The Spirit of Normandy Trust. The Spirit of Normandy Trust is a registered charity that provides welfare support to Veterans from all services who took part in the D-Day landings and the subsequent Battle of Normandy. The charity also maintains a number of memorials in the UK and France and work with schools to perpetuate the memory of Normandy and its significance in world history.
“I joined the Royal Navy in June 1942. I was the signalman on board a Landing Craft LCI(L)380. After taking part in the D-Day landings we continued to take many infantrymen to the beaches. We followed the Army as it fought its way towards Germany.
As they cleared the ports they found that the Germans had scuttled all of the ships so that our large troop transports could not get in. Because our craft had a flat bottom we were able to go in, so we continued to take troops to each port until the Germans surrendered. On the day of surrender we were leaving the port of Ostend carrying British troops, who had been fighting for many months, back to Tilbury. When we got the news it caused such joy to everyone on the ship that it was unbelievable. Everyone shook hands, clapped each other on the back, and started singing, it a was a tremendous feeling. One of our gunners was so excited that he fired his Oerlikon into the air. Luckily a Lancaster bomber which was passing overhead at that moment, managed to swerve. He dropped two flares to let us know he was not the enemy. I acknowledged by firing two flares in his direction. He gave a wiggle to show there were no hard feelings. The euphoria continued all the way back to Tilbury.
Shortly after getting back, the Prime Minister Mr Winston Churchill declared the following day would be VE Day. A day of celebration for the whole country. We knew that it would be a terrific day in London and as we had been given leave a number of us thought that we would go. So myself and three shipmates (not realising how far it was) set off to walk there. After quite a few hours we realised that it was too far and by sheer chance we were passing a large public house where lots of people were singing, dancing and having a great time. We decided to join them. They welcomed us with open arms and made a real fuss of us, so much so that when after a few hours we got up to return to the ship, they would not let us go. A couple who had been sitting with us said that it was too far for us to go that night and insisted that we should stay with them overnight. When we protested they told us that they had a son who was in the Royal Air Force and hoped that someone was doing the same for him.
We were intrigued to be taken to a large department store, we went in through the main doors and were lead through the sales floor to lifts at the back which took us to their rooftop apartment. It transpired that they were the caretakers. We had a very comfortable nights sleep, our first in a real bed for many months. After a delicious breakfast we were taken back to our ship in the stores delivery van. We could not thank them enough and whenever I think of VE Day I remember their kindness.”
“I was a Leading Stoker with the Royal Navy on board HMS Nith River Class Frigate. My journey to VE Day 1945 was quite exciting. We left Scotland in February 1944 and spent the 4 months mostly at night on exercises out of Weymouth and then the Solent – Isle of Wight. On 6 June 1944 landed troops on Gold Beach (Jig and Green sectors) at 0725 hours. At midnight on 23-24 June we were hit by a German guided bomber. Eight seaman were killed and 26 injured.
After repairs to the ship on the Isle of Wight we went back to the Normandy Beaches until the end of October. The ship then returned to Scotland for major repairs.
February 1945 we left for the Far East in a convoy of various ships on the Bay of Biscay (my first taste of rough seas). We lost seamen that night. We stopped at Gibraltar, Bizerta, Port Said and Aden, then through the Suez Canal to Bombay. After leaving Bombay we had five LSTs with us and on the way to Rangoon I discovered that my brother Frank was on board one of them.
After the assault on Rangoon which began on 29 April 1945, we stayed there until 13 June to carry on further operations. Eventually, we arrived home on 29 March 1946. So to sum up, we NEVER celebrated VE Day 1945 – we were too busy! And I did spend some time with my brother Frank in Rangoon and Trincomalee.”
“On D-Day I was a Wireman on a tank landing craft LCT836 and when we went into action I was also the Port Oerlikon gunner. We were in the first wave of landing craft delivering Sherman tanks to Utah Beach for the American Forces. We made a number of trips across the Channel and, as the war progressed through France and Belgium, we continued to deliver supplies through Le Havre and Dieppe until a major port had been captured and supplies could go in by ship.
By VE Day our task was completed and the landing craft was taken out of service. I was then sent from my base on the south coast to Queensferry in Scotland to attend a promotion course to be made Leading Wireman. On VE Day I was travelling with a couple of dozen sailors to Scotland by train and we had to change trains in London. We could see the parties and celebrations going on in the streets and we had a debate about possibly going AWOL and joining in. In the end we thought it was too risky, so boarded our train to Scotland. All the way up to Scotland we could see the celebration bonfires burning. We had seen a lot and been very busy since D Day and we were glad that it was all over but sad that we had missed the celebrations.”
On VE Day Wally was on his way to take part in a promotion course in Scotland. He and Jean had never met at that point. Whilst in Scotland and waiting for the course to commence Wally was sent to work in the stores area where Jean was working as a leading Wren. The rest, as they say, is history. And this is Jean’s story.
“I served as a Wren during the war and had been stationed in Dover Castle and in Rye. By VE Day I had been posted to Hope Town, Queensferry where, as Leading Wren, I was working on a section managing supplies for minesweepers. When VE Day arrived we were very excited. In the evening we went to a dance in Edinburgh and had a great time. It felt good to know that the war in Europe was over, although we knew that it was still going on in the Far East. At least for today we could celebrate before getting back to work in the morning. It was a day of mixed emotions as we were glad that the war in Europe was over but sad that so many young men would never come home again.”