The 6th June, 2019 saw the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings of Allied Forces on the beaches of Normandy. The combined services operation codenamed ‘Operation Overlord’ saw landings on a sixty mile stretch of coastline in five zones. Their names have become etched in military history; Omah; Gold; Juno; Sword and Utah. Over 11,500 aircraft, 6,800 vessels of all types, resulted in 175,000 men being landed on the beaches during the first day. Casualties were high, with over 4,400 confirmed dead on the Allied side.
Over the following weeks and months the Royal Navy played a major part in transporting men and materials between Britain and France, and following completion of his training Don was posted to a Landing Craft Tank (LCT). Born in Mold in 1925, Don initially went to the Board School, Glanrafon, Mold – a bright pupil he passed the scholarship for the Alun Grammar School. However, he elected to attend Flint Central School to be with his cousin, Tom Warburton
Sports Day at the Board School (Don marked with the arrow)
Board School Boys Class (Don marked by the arrow)
As perhaps an indication as to his future, Don joined the Gwernymynydd Scout Troop at age 11 or 12. The two Scoutmasters were the Walne Brothers, and meetings were held at their family home, Fron Hall. The Waln family also provided uniforms for those scouts whose families could not afford to buy them.
Don left school at the age of 14, and had a number of jobs before enrolling in the Royal Navy. Initially he worked for Price the Ironmonger whose shop was at the Cross, then he moved onto the offices of Crosville Motor Services and finally he worked for Jack Kemp, landlord of the Royal Oak in New Street. Jack Kemp also had an electrical shop in Chester Street (now the Michel Davies shop). From an early age Don always had a yearning to join the Royal Navy. However, enrolment of boy sailors at age 15 was stopped on the outbreak of war and he had to wait a few more years to fulfil his ambition. Not one to just let the years pass by, Don at the age of 15, became one of the founder members of Mold Air Training Corps. While he particularly enjoyed the two week camps at RAF Hawarden and the flights in trainer planes, the desire to join the Royal Navy never left him. So in 1942 at the age of 17, he presented himself to the Royal Navy’s recruitment office in Wrexham. Meeting all the necessary requirements, he was finally called up on 19th January 1943, and was sent to the shore training establishment at Torpoint, Cornwall, H.M.S. Raleigh. Within his training group was one trainee from Flint and another from Mold. Strangely he never met any of his training group throughout his naval service.
HMS RALEIGH – Don is in the 2nd row, 4th from the right.
After 10 weeks basic training followed by 7 days leave, he was posted to HMS Drake at Plymouth. Don applied for a gunnery course and was sent to H.M.S. Queen Charlotte in Southport. Passing out as an AA3 Gunner meant extra money, which he believed was 3d per day. Reaching 18 years of age brought an extra benefit, he could have the traditional navy tot of rum. For the teetotal they could claim 3d per day in lieu of the rum.
Don’s naval career saw him posted to LCT ships and he saw service on three different vessels.
Example of an LCT (Courtesy of Imperial War Museum)
LCT’s were flat bottomed enabling them to run right up to the landing beaches and allowing tanks to disembark. Crewed by 12-14 personnel, under the command of a Lieutenant and Sub-Lieutenant, they had a top speed of 11 knots per hour (12.5mph). Depending on the port of embarkation, it took the ship about 8 hours to cross the channel. The total armament consisted of two Oerlikon 20mm cannon, with one mounted on each side of the ship.
On D-Day, the ship arrived on Sword Beach around 8.00 a.m. and over the following two months they made 15-20 crossings, landing on all five beaches. As the RAF had control of the skies and although they had to be remain vigilant for attacks by U-Boats, ground fire from the shore batteries posed the greatest threat to their safety.
“In one incident a shell from a German shore battery passed me by 6-8 feet but only 2 feet above my crouching number 2 gunner on the port side gun. It went straight through the closed wheelhouse door, and out of the bulkhead on the starboard side before hitting the guardrail and disappearing into the sea. We assume this was a dud as it failed to explode and we only suffered two injuries. My number 2 gunner, whose head it passed over temporarily lost his hearing, while the Starboard gun No.2 received a shrapnel wound to his shoulder and was taken off the ship. After the first couple of weeks, shell fire from the coastal batteries was minimal but we did need to keep a watch for U-Boats.”
On their third trip they were required to bring prisoners back, and Don estimated that on the three occasions they were required to do so, a total of around 500 prisoners were brought back. He observed a noticeable difference between these German troops, some clearly being conscripts from Poland and other conquered countries. Their attitude differed considerably from the indigenous Germans.
Not happy with one of his ships, he applied for a Diving Course and was sent to Southampton, but after two weeks only teaching others about gunnery, he returned back to a ship in Scotland. In retrospect, Don feels this was a sensible decision as many divers were used in two-man submarines with their high mortality rate.
Posted to a Landing Craft Administration Ship (LCQ), Don spent the remaining period of the war, approximately 9 months, in the middle and Far East.
Among the decorations awarded to Don in recognition of his service, was the Legion d’Honneur (Chevalier) medal. This order was initially instituted by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, and was presented to Allied troops in World War II from a grateful French nation.
Finally demobbed in December 1946, Don did consider re-enlisting into the Navy but instead volunteered, with a friend, to join the Palestine Police Force. His friend was accepted, but Don failed to make the minimum height requirement by 1/8th inch, and by then he had met his future wife. Marriage followed in 1947, and he finally accepted that a civilian life was for him.
At that time long working hours saw him working 11 hour night shifts, 6 days a week at Courtaulds, Flint before moving to ICI Rhydymwyn and then 14 years at Synthite, Denbigh Road, Mold. With the building of the Queen’s Park estate in Mold, he opened a newsagents in the newly built shops in Elm Drive. Passing the shop onto his son, Keith, he didn’t retire immediately as he was involved in various work schemes throughout Mold. Finally, around 1980, he decided to take it a little easier and follow some of his other interests.
Unlike Don, many of the servicemen who took part in Operation Overlord are no longer with us, For those still with us, The Royal British Legion organised a commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, and Don was one of the 260 veterans chosen to take part. Along with his carer son, Keith, they were part of the event described in the following article from the ‘Cruise Industry News – 2019 Annual Report.’ Don commented on the fact that he was the only north-Walian from the combined services personnel attending. The oldest attendee was 101 and the youngest 92, and Don assures me that full use was made of the free bar on the Observation Deck reserved for the veterans and their carers :-
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ Boudicca will be setting sail on a historic seven-night “D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance” from Dover on June 2. The Boudicca will be operating under charter to Suffolk-based Arena Travel, on behalf of The Royal British Legion, to carry up to 300 D-Day veterans – plus their carers and companions – from Dover to the coast of Normandy. They will be attending a series of commemorative events in both England and France to mark the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings. To commemorate this sailing, and a first for Fred. Olsen, Boudicca’s exterior has been decorated with The Royal British Legion’s recognisable red poppy insignia, most notably on the bow, stern and deckhouse. Peter Deer, Commercial Director at Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, said: “It is a tremendous honour for us to be part of The Royal British Legion’s commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, in what is set to be a very emotional voyage for these veterans and their loved ones. We are very proud that our cruise ship, Boudicca, will be following the same path as the ships involved on this momentous day, which brought peace and reconciliation to mark the Second World War.” Bob Gamble, The Royal British Legion’s Assistant Director for Commemorative Events, said: “Seventy five years ago, the largest seaborne invasion force in history set sail for France on a mission to liberate Europe. Alongside their American cousins, nearly 160,000 men from Britain and the Commonwealth landed on the beaches of Normandy. Today, we stand in awe of their achievement and salute their bravery and sacrifice, on our journey back to Normandy.” Among the D-Day veterans joining Boudicca for the much-anticipated Voyage is 95-year-old Ted Cordery, who was a Leading Seaman Torpedoman aboard HMS Belfast on 6th June 1944. Ted will be travelling down to Dover with his wife and carer, Glynis, from their home in Oxfordshire, and said the pair were counting down the days until the cruise. In Dover, veterans will receive a very special send-off, with the ‘40s-themed ‘Swingtime Sweethearts’ performing in the cruise terminal throughout the day, which will be decked out with flags and bunting, and a display of military vehicles from the era, as well as the Dover Sea Cadets marching and performing a number of evocative wartime songs, The Boudicca will then visit Dunkirk, France, on June 3. During the day in Poole on June 4 – a maiden call for Boudicca and the largest ship ever to call at the port – veterans will once again have time to relax and enjoy the ship’s facilities, or head into the city and explore. On the quayside, the Ministry of Defence will be hosting military-themed events, entertainment and activities, which veterans can view and enjoy from the ship’s decks or ashore, and the Royal Marines will also be coming on board. Boudicca will dock in Portsmouth on June 5 for a day that is sure to be an undoubted highlight of this special voyage. To signify the importance of Portsmouth’s role in the Normandy landings, from where much of the landing force sailed in 1944, a series of events will be taking place throughout the day. The veterans will disembark and attend the Royal Commemorative Ceremonies at Southsea Common, being organised by the Ministry of Defence, which will be attended by dignitaries and Heads of State from around the world. Upon departure from Portsmouth, the Boudicca will be escorted by a Royal Navy frigate, along with four smaller Navy vessels, into the Solent, where a flotilla of Royal Navy vessels and their sailors will be waiting to salute the ship. The city of Portsmouth will also be paying its own tribute, waving off the veterans on their way to France. Following the large-scale commemorations in Portsmouth, the Boudicca will then stand off the coast of Ventnor, Isle of Wight before sunset – accompanied by a Royal Navy escort warship – for a sombre Moment of Reflection on deck, led by The Royal British Legion’s National President, Lt General James Bashall CB, CBE, after which there will be a flypast of RAF aircraft, before the ship heads for Normandy. On June 6, following in the footsteps of the brave soldiers involved in the Battle of Normandy, the Boudicca will arrive in Le Havre, France on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Veterans will disembark early in the morning to attend a Memorial Service at the Bayeux CWGC Cemetery, followed by a late afternoon of local events at Arromanches. On June 7, after an overnight stay in Le Havre, veterans will have the opportunity to visit the Operation Overlord beaches, Sword and Gold’ as well as Pegasus Bridge, the British Normandy Memorial and the Arromanches Military Museum. The Boudicca will return to Portsmouth on June 8. To mark the Queen’s birthday, a day of celebratory activities has been planned – including a screening of the Queen’s birthday celebrations – for all on board to enjoy, and the city will be laying on a colourful firework display in the evening. The Royal British Legion’s D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance has been offered free of charge to D-Day veterans and their companions, funded by the UK Government’s LIBOR grant, in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence.
Don recalls a very moving moment as they walked from the coaches to the Boudicca. There was a Guard of Honour which saluted veterans as they passed through the two lines of the service personnel. Among the other surprises was the arrival of Rod Stewart and his wife, Penny. Not only did he entertain them with a number of songs, including of course ‘Sailing’, but he spoke too many of the veterans. For those people sitting down, Rod would kneel down to be at the same level and everyone greatly appreciated his efforts. While in France, Services of Remembrance were held at Bayeux Cathedral and at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Bayeux and were attended by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Don at the 75th Anniversary Event
Despite approaching his 95th birthday and with mobility issues, Don retains his positive attitude to life and sense of humour. I have only known Don for the last 20 years, but have always outgoing with a happy disposition. For those like me born after the war we must never forget the sacrifices Don and his generation made to rid the world of the Nazi evil.
To complete this brief article it’s only right to finish with his own comments regarding the ‘dud’ shell incident. Relating the story to his son, he commented “I was saved for some good reason, but am still waiting to find out what it was.”
David Rowe 4th September 2019