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D-Day Experiences of veterans from Amble

William (Bill) Wake, Royal Navy number PMX 535514 and his rank was a Sick Berth Attendant.  He was on LST 361 on D-day.  Bill’s memories of his account of D-day:

Loading of the LST with tanks and equipment took many hours. We were all very nervous and anxious as we feared we would never return. The Captain gave a speech and we were given 2 hours to relax and write our last letters home with the promise that they wouldn’t be censored and would be handed back to us if we survived (the Royal Navy kept their promise).

We sailed on Monday 5th June at 11pm at night and sailed into the harbour of Juno beach around 7.30am on the 6th August 1944. All of the area was mined. Many of the troops on board were from the 3rd Canadian division. Our mission was to drop men and supplies on Juno Beach and on the return journey to take wounded men back to the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar, near Portsmouth.

My role was as a Sick Berth Attendant, helping with caring for the wounded and also assisting with operations.

The Channel was rough. Waves, some two metres high, made sailing difficult even at reduced speed. The ships and landing crafts were tossed around and many got seasick. This was the first time I had actually been at sea. In front of the fleet, minesweepers cleared a route through the mined area protecting the coast.

There were soon casualties that had to be taken off the beach – we used DUKW (known as Ducks) which were 6 wheeled amphibious vehicles. On board the casualties were loaded 3 high on stretchers. We made a temporary operating theatre which was usually the Officers Ward Room. The Officers mess table became the operating table. I had originally been a Sick Berth Attendant but moved to being an Operating Theatre Assistant.   

We travelled back and forth across the channel bringing the injured back to England – once we sailed into Gold beach but it was mainly Juno where we were operating in and out of.


Norman Henderson personal experience

I joined the Durban in Portsmouth dockyard early in 1944. I had no idea what I had let myself in for, because she looked a total wreck, stripped of her main armaments and torpedo tubes and left only with close range weapons, i.e. ornicans.

After receiving my position on watch, I went to find out the ship’s routine, which proved negative, all we were asked to do was keep our quarters clean and occasionally wash down the upper deck. The only thing I could think was that we were taking her to the scrap yard. On the other side of the dockyard lay the Dutch cruiser Sumatra, in a very similar condition.

At this particular time I was a Leading Seaman, Gunner and Captain’s Coxswain. We just had a skeleton crew and as I have said knew nothing of what was happening. After 2 or 3 weeks the 2 cruisers slipped out of Portsmouth Harbour and we made our way along the English Channel, through the Straits of Dover and up the east coast.

We thought we were bound for the scrap yard but instead we were picking up merchant ships at various ports, these were also all in a derelict state. When we arrived at the Firth of Forth we had collected some 20 vessels, this was to be the final number. We then sailed round the north of Scotland, then down the west coast and all ships anchored in the Loch at Oban.

The Master at Arms informed me that a conference was to be held the following day in Oban, and that I had to pick up 10 of the Skippers from the Merchant ships which were all numbered, (the Sumatra boat had to do a similar job.)

Next morning, after picking up all these people, I picked up my own Captain and proceeded through the boom defence and into Oban Harbour. The captain assured me that they would be at least 2 hours so if we wished to have a look around, we were at liberty to do so. At 1 1.30 am. we were on our way back to the ship. This procedure was repeated on 4 consecutive days.

On the final day, we cleared the lower deck. The captain told us to pack all our kit, except for what we stood up in.  Our belonging would be taken to open station, which was just at the end of the quay. In the afternoon a barge came alongside and our things were taken on board. A working party was detailed to accompany this equipment ashore and store it in a truck from the station.

When the working party returned, we were told that the postmen would make his last trip ashore, so if anyone had any mail, they were to deposit it immediately.

When the boat returned, she was hoisted aboard and no-one was to be allowed ashore forthwith. This was the 2nd June. The lower deck was cleared again and it was only then that we got to know the whole truth. We were all issued with a pamphlet, a copy of which I have enclosed, and we were told we had to proceed to Poole Bay. We were to arrive under the cover of darkness on 4th June and there we would receive our final orders. However, on passage down the west coast, a gale had blown up in the English Channel and we received a signal to anchor in Milford Haven and wait there for further instructions. (At this particular time, the heads of staff thought all was lost, because the number of ships and equipment would certainly have been observed by the Germans.)

The weather improved rapidly and although far from perfect, they decided to go ahead with operation Overlord. We were now on our way to Poole Bay, arriving under the cover of darkness on 5th June. We anchored there and were given final orders.

We were to follow a fleet of mine-sweepers to the Normandy beaches. When the word was given just before daylight on 6th June, I heard and saw a sight that would never be repeated. The sky was full of bombers, fighters and gliders. Then came the order for hands to proceed to surface action stations, we were to eat there and sleep there if necessary. You can imagine how we felt, not knowing what to expect, especially after hearing that the Canadians had been massacred at Dieppe. How could we hope to get onto the beaches at Normandy against the German might?

When it became properly daylight, we could see the most remarkable flotilla of ships proceeding across the Channel. There were Battleships, Cruisers, Destroyers and a multitude of landing craft. It was obvious we had taken the Germans by surprise, as we were very near the French coast before anything really happened. All hell let loose when German fighter bombers made their attack. If you could imagine the flack that was put up by all the guns, I think the German aircraft just wanted to release their bombs and get the hell out of there. As we neared the beach, the sweepers blew up quite a number of mines, but we couldn’t distinguish between the bombs and the mines especially as the battleships were firing 16 inch broad-sides overhead.

When we actually got to the shore, there was quite a large swell running in and many of the landing craft got into difficulties before we formed a harbour with the block ships. A Lt. Commander from the Durban was in charge of positioning these ships, and I had to take his party in our own boat so that he could give the order to blow up the scuttling charges.

After all ships had been put in position, we then proceeded to sink the Durban at one end of the breakwater. A landing craft went alongside and took off the crew, who were transferred to various ships in the neighbourhood.

After completing our own operation, the Lt. Commander asked if I would take the boat back to Blighty. After consulting the crew, we all felt that we might be caught by enemy aircraft in mid-channel, so we were given permission to make our own way back and to hand the boat over to someone who could use it.  After putting the Lt. Commander aboard a merchant ship, we proceeded to find a ship that would get us back home as early as possible.

I am writing this as though things were quite normal, but it is impossible to tell how we were feeling at this time.

As we moved west towards the Cherbourg peninsula, where the Americans landed and suffered terrific losses, the cliffs were very high and the Germans had dozens of machine gun nests along the tops. They were firing at the landing craft, consequently, many of the soldiers never made it to the shore and there were bodies lying along the water’s edge.

We carried on from ship to ship asking when they would be leaving for home, but it was not until we had consulted many of them that we found one that was leaving in 2 to 3 days. Many of the ships had just discharge their cargo, and could possibly be there for a week.

We managed to find a ship named Forth Charnasay, an official said we could come on board if we could find room.  We later leamed that there were 200 German prisoners of war on board.  After turning our boat over to some soldiers we went alongside the ship and bid them good-bye and good luck.

Although we had 2 packs of emergency rations, we were trying to save them in case we were faced with that emergency. We made our way midships hoping to find a galley and when a steward appeared in the doorway I asked if there was any possibility of something to eat, much to my surprise he was a Geordie and lived only a few miles from my home. For the next 2 or 3 days he looked after us well,  but could not offer any accommodation.

The Germans were down no.3 hold so we had to settle for no.2 hold, but after a few near misses from bombs, we didn’t stay long down there and were pleased to see the last of the cargo discharged into a landing craft.

On the 11th June it was up anchor and head for home, thankfully conditions had improved and things had quietened down considerably. After crossing the English Channel through the Straits of Dover we arrived at the King George V. Dock in London.