Excepts from the letters of George Steele - Lieutenant Royal Engineers
For days we have been living behind barbed wire as we are briefed completely except for knowing exactly where and when we touch down on enemy soil. The maps are on my bed rolled and sealed but I feel very little curiosity; one place is as good or as bad as the next. Von and Jack are in other camps and we have only seen the O.C.once in weeks. Somehow I feel a sense of relief now that things are really going to start. Here I'm living with the assault Canadians and they are happy as schoolboys now that the three years of waiting are over. If I was on the enemy coast right now I should be withdrawing quietly towards the very tall thick grass.
We were paid in francs last Wednesday but the lads had done in all their silver so I had to get them paid ten bob today so that they could buy their chocolate ration. We've had our 'last supper' and strolled back in the moonlight through the lanes. Strange that the whole of the past month I have had time for very little and now by the light of a battered oil lamp I find myself alone with my thoughts (and you). I know that you will not get this until after D Day and that nothing I say now will be secret so I'm going to carry on writing for as long as I can.
There have been special communion services in camp today. We go in about seven hours after the first people, so things should be humming by then. That means we shall not see the terrific air and sea bombardment which is going to come down on that little bit of coast. Nothing like it has ever been imagined before.
Saturday 3 June 1944
We moved overnight and I'm writing this sitting on the kerb of a dockland road and as we've been sitting here since four this morning and it is now midday you can imagine what my reactions are. We came here in trucks and the only noteworthy things about the journey were a plane trapped in the searchlights - British - and the sight of a barrage balloon silhouetted against the moon.
Now, after all our security measures, one of our Corporals has to let out to some gunners in the dock road that we have been issued with francs, of all the damnfool things to do! I dozed for about an hour around six this morning and that is all the sleep I have had. A scrounged wash and shave did help but my feet feel tired inside my boots - it must be with carrying the load. I am sure that if I stumble going ashore I'm sure my Mae West will never keep me afloat.
We haven't seen the actual docks yet all there is visible is a round arc of barrage balloons which I assume are flown from ships. Jack went through with his convoy a short while ago and I managed to get a few words with him. He knows less about the job than I do and he is the I.O. so our briefing appears to have slipped. Blast the O.C.'s wedding! It may be alright for the O.C. but I should hate to be old Jack shoving off into the blue on a recce knowing as little as he does.
Sunday 4 June 1944:
Finished loading the ship (an LST) at about four yesterday afternoon and I stood in the bows and watched the watertight doors close under us. We then backed off the hards and anchored about five miles down the channel. Between half past four and seven we had two good meals wonderfully well served as is the Navy's way and then I wrapped myself in my blanket and slept for twelve hours solid. Wonderful it was too. After eating green prunes and peaches yesterday I felt pretty fit this morning and the sausage and tomatoes were just the thing. Going out on deck after breakfast, the channel seems full of ships lying at anchor most of them flying barrage balloons. There are ships for tanks and infantry, destroyers , corvettes, cruisers, minesweepers, cable laying ships, motor boats, liners and landing crafts. Its really happening.
Monday 5 June 1944
The wind got up yesterday and the sea became rather choppy and then it rained. The lads on deck had shelters improvised in next to no time so that the whole deck was covered by vehicles and tarpaulins. I just sat around and read all day as news had come through of a 24 hour postponement.
This morning I awoke shivering under my one blanket about four and from then on I just dozed until breakfast. I've just been 'tween decks to see how the lads were getting on. Imagine a low windowless steel box about seven feet high by ten feet wide running the whole length of the ship lined with three tiers of folding bunks each side and occasional roof lights and recumbent khaki figures all around. Its hot and dark and stuffy and smells of unwashed bodies , rifle oil and cigarette smoke. That's where they sleep and live, coming out on deck like rats from a sewer to get their meals. I'm rather worried as to what will happen when 'action stations' are sounded. Everyone is supposed to get below and there are six holes in the deck to get down. As more than half of them are already below it it won't be too difficult but if they have to come up again in a rush to 'boat stations' things are going to happen at those six small holes. Anyway she seems to be a lucky ship as she's been to North Africa, Sicily, Palermo and Anzio before this job.
There are three of us in this cabin, two antitank gunners and myself, they are the seventeen pounder boys and if they get their sights on the panzers its heaven help Fritzio because nothing else can.
Unfortunately the last page is missing but he survived the journey across the Channel landing with the Canadians (7 June 1944 ?). Fom France into Germany where he spent the next two years reconstructing bridges on the Elbe.
He was promoted to Captain, mentioned in dispatches and wounded by small arms fire.
A far cry from his beginnings as a carpenter in a small mill town in Lancashire - to him the adventure of his life!
George Steele 10 August 1913 - 31 January 1994