- Contributed by
- Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper
- People in story:
- Norman Lascelles Wright
- Location of story:
- Normandy, D day H+6
- Background to story:
- Royal Navy
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 June 2004
Norman and his friend Ben Kilvington. Taken on the Isle of Man 1942
Norman Wright is one of my neighbours who joined the Royal Navy in 1942. He has given me permission to add his story to my personal page.
He trained in Scotland. It took him and his mates four days to get there. Their first night was spent in the Cotswolds and the second night in Lancashire. Throughout the journey they were under strict orders - 'No Franternisation', but in Lancashire on a Sunday and in a Coronation Street sort of setting, they were all invited to lunch and within minutes were lost in a number of different homes.
In 1943 and aboard H.M.S. Charybdis, Norman was in one of the last Malta Convoys. They also took General Eisenhower from Palermo in Sicily to the Allied Landings in Italy at Salerno. But in particular and in June 1944, Norman was aboard a tank landing craft in the Solent waiting out the 24-hour weather delay to the invasion of the Normandy beaches.
With everything and everybody aboard that huge section of the vast invasion fleet - and raring to go - the word of command came and a destroyer surged through the fleet blaring out the unmistakable music of 'Post Horn Gallop' informing everyone that, 'A Hunting We Will Go'.
On Sunday 6th June 2004 Norman wrote:-
"It is hard to believe that exactly 60 years ago today I was aboard a Tank Landing Craft on my way to Sword Beach in Normandy. As I had joined the Royal Navy that should not have been a surprise. It was a surprise that I was not a member of the crew but a passenger to be deposited there at H + 6 hours. I was a member of a team that consisted of three large vans and crew of approximately twelve men. One vehicle contained a large transmitter, the second a large receiver and the third was a workshop. Our job was to be the communications centre in the event of the battleship offshore doing that function becoming disabled. The Navy's sense of humour in christening us 'Party Funshore' was now becoming apparent. We were dressed in Army Khaki, (so as not to stand out from the troops going ashore). This, with the brass on our naval caps suggested we were officers and attracted many salutes, much to our mirth!
The whole unit was in charge of a Royal Fleet Air Arm Pilot Sub-lieutenant (apparently they had a surplus of these or a shortage of planes) and he rode in the lead van. The second in charge was a Chief Petty Officer who had been at the Battle of Jutland and he rode in the second vehicle. The rear was brought up by yours truly, a humble Petty Officer Radio Mechanic, aged twenty. We arrived off Sword Beach on time but due to certain difficulties (some Germans on the beach refused to surrender) we could not land until the following day. This meant that we anchored about 200 yards off the beach and had a grandstand view of all the activities. The most momentous was that of the arrival early afternoon of the gliders towed by Lancaster and Halifax Bombers. The sky was full of them for what seemed hours. They were casting off their towlines just after they had passed over our heads and we could see them diving down to their objectives - brave men all, but the Germans must have been frightened out of their skins by the sheer size of the operation. One returning bomber badly disabled with severe engine fires was so low we could see the pilot struggling to avoid crashing his plane into the mass of shipping. He succeeded but must have lost his life when his plane exploded a little further out to sea.
The beaches were occasionally strafed by two or three Messerschmitts that remained in the German Air Force. They did not relish the job as several Spitfires hotly pursued them.
We eventually landed about mid afternoon on the 7th June and came to a standstill in a little gully leading off the beach. After a few minutes I felt that this was not a good place to pause and got out to see what was happening. Our CPO did not feel disposed to get out of his vehicle and I found that our CO must have gone forward to see where we were supposed to go. A few yards up a slight hill brought me to a very active area where a well known Beach Master was in control and a succession of adapted jeeps were bringing back the wounded. I was startled to see a hatless but otherwise very well dressed German Officer walking about without what appeared to be any form of supervision. It was only when I saw the Red Cross on his uniform I realised he was a doctor and was taking his turn dealing with the many arriving casualties. In later life the irony of this situation started to hit me - a few yards up the road his guys and ours were trying to kill each other and here he was trying to doctor anyone coming before him. How utterly stupid is war!
Having found my CO we inquired which route away from the beach we should take. The reply was either turn left or right but right was not advised for the same reason our day of landing had been put back! So we turned left and followed the road to Hermonville sur Mer. An ill-advised conference in the village square was hastily abandoned after a sniper in the village church tower decided to target us (fortunately he was not a very good shot) and we took refuge in a nearby orchard which was guarded by a military policeman. We found out later that he was also protecting the adjacent brothel from retribution by loyal French people.
The orchard seemed a very pleasant place so it was decided to stay there and, following our training, we grasped our 'entrenching tool' (never used before) and dug four shallow trenches in the very hard ground under each tree. After one night of heavy flak and much noise the trenches were transformed into safe holes at least 4 feet deep! These were our homes for 3 to 4 weeks when we witnessed and heard much of the intense action connected with the taking of Caen and, until it was deemed safe, for our back up facility to return to England.
The rations came up on time and the food was pretty good given the circumstances. Good, except for a shortage of bread and nothing to dip in the gravy. What an excuse to return to the ship for spares! American-built, it contained all the mod cons of the time including its own bakery. I came back loaded with bread under each arm, and was I popular!
Our toilet arrangements were very basic; we just dug a hole and hung a branch over it. Our main problem was a shortage of paper although the orchard provided some less confortable alternatives.
We had been in the orchard about two weeks when the excited shout of 'mail' went up and we rushed hopefully to collect, thinking of news from home. Instead of that we each got an identical letter from the Inland Revenue. Our paper shortage solved!
We had the odd alarm that German Tanks were about to counter attack. On receipt of these everyone grabbed his pistol with which he had been issued. I had the extra comfort of a Sten gun. Incidentally, none of these weapons had ever been fired either in training or in the landings. The powers that be must have thought that necessity would be the mother of understanding! I am grateful to report that we suffered no casualties. My outfit returned as we went - aboard a TLC with our vehicles.
Taking a taxi from Waterloo station to Kings Cross for a few days leave on my return, I could not understand why the driver kept looking skywards until he aquainted me with the arrival of the V2's. He was so used to watching the V1's, that he thought he would be able to dodge the latest arrivals. I couldn't help thinking of that German Doctor - all wars should be banned!"
Norman was asked, "Did anything special happen in your naval life before D.Day?"
His reply was, "Yes! They issued me with some Francs!"
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