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16 October 2014
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WWII - D-Day
Richard Keegan

The Lurgan man who joind the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1941 and landed on Sword Beach on 6 June 1944.

Richard Keegan now and then

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Article written May '04

Richard Keegan
Richard Keegan
At the outbreak of war in September 1939, Richard Keegan was sixteen years old and living in Lurgan. A 'wee notion' that he took, to join the Army, was rebuked by his policeman father - who was insistent that they wouldn't take him on. Not to be deterred and reluctant to give up on his 'wee notion',
he applied two years later, when he was eighteen, and was duly accepted.

Audio Clip 1:
Richard talks about enlisting

Stationed at the ‘Low Camp’ in Saint Patrick's Barracks in Ballymena, Richard, along with the other new recruits, underwent six weeks of a rigorous induction before being transferred to Palace Barracks and the Seventieth Battalion, of the Royal Ulster Rifles.


D Company
D Company, Eighteenth Platoon, 2nd Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles - Richard is first on the left, second row from the top.

Although involved in active service during the Belfast Blitz – their superiors made the decision to break up the Seventieth Battalion in late ‘42. Richard, although disheartened, was transferred along with some of his colleagues, within the regiment - to D Company, Eighteenth Platoon, 2nd Battalion of the Rifles, and it was here that his training began in earnest.


For the next year physical fitness and discipline were the priorities - sea landings, assault courses, mountain and ammunition training became part of Richard’s daily routine. However, mental well being was also worked upon - an awareness of the situation in Germany, team building and preparation for the effects of battle were integral elements of the men’s training.

Audio Clip 2:
Richard talks about his training and the 'Baptism of Fire' that the men received.


'Monty Wants Us'
Unaware of the high-level plans being made for their battalion, rumours started to circulate among the men in April ’44, that they would be taking part in a landing in North Africa – "Monty wants us on his job" was the word in the mess. However in late April / early May of 1944, the company was
moved to Draxford in Dorset, to the 'concentration area' - joining up with the other two and half million plus, servicemen assembling in the South of England for Operation Overlord.

The Big Scheme
Secrecy was of the utmost importance, and even at this point, Richard and his friends, were unaware of their mission. Confined to their barrack, all Mr Green their platoon officer would tell them is that “you’re going on a big scheme”. Richard vividly recalls walking into the tent were the whole set-up was laid out in front of them, and although shown the piece of coastline where they would be landing, he was unable to decipher the exact location. He knew it was somewhere in France or Spain but that was all the information he could gleam!


The Crossing
As the history books record, the mission was initially planned for the 4th June, Richard and his platoon were duly assembled on their landing craft on the 3 June, however the well documented bad weather scuppered plans for the invasion, and so the men were taken off the ship, to be brought back two days later. Crossing the Channel Richard recalls that the tension was palpable, the men were ‘fired up’, but fear was abated by a sense that this was the culmination, of all those years of training.

Disembarking at Sword beach, Richard, loaded down with ammunition, equipment, a radio and a bicycle, was soaked from head to foot by the heavy swell that was surrounding the shore. Here he recalls grabbing one of the smallest members of the platoon (seated at the front of the Company photograph) from going under and explains how his canny plan for changing his socks was thwarted!

Audio Clip 3:
Landing on the beach and sighting his first German.


On first glance, the Germans were not in evidence on the beach, but their machine guns were continuously bombarding the landing craft, however this fire seemed to be considerably far enough away to pose no immediate threat.

Richard remembers making his way up a ramp onto the promenade and coming face to face with a row of fishermen's houses. The company, following their commander, made their way up a narrow street towards their first assembly point ‘the Orchard’ where a head count was taken to establish if everyone was present and correct. The men then made there way to 'the farm', a rural farmhouse surrounded by a square of trees, six or seven miles inland, and where they dug in for the night. On their way they had encountered welcoming French civilians, their bounteous offers of wine, kindly refused by Richard.

By the end of the first day it had been estimated that the troops landing on the Easterly beaches of Sword and Juno would have taken the town of Caen, some nine miles south. However circumstances and conditions decreed this objective over-optimistic, as all the Battalions were some miles off, by the fall of night.

The Next Day

Early Morning Snipers
The men had been warned to watch for snipers! The roll call at the end of the first day had registered some of the Company out of action, however it wasn't until the next morning that Richard witnessed his first victim at close proximity. His friend Jimmy Pedlaw, whom he had signed up with in Belfast, ventured out of his dug out and was caught in the neck!

Audio Clip 4:
Listen to Richard recall Jimmy's exit from the war.


Richard Keegan and Jimmy Pedlaw
Richard Keegan and Jimmy Pedlaw.


First Attack on Cambes Wood
Jimmy's incident however did not detain the Company, who had to press on to the town of Caen. Their next mission was to secure Cambes Wood, and D Company was to lead the attack. Richard and his colleagues cycled for a number of miles to the outskirts of the Wood where they dumped their bikes, and came face to face with a large cornfield that they had to clear, in order to reach their destination. There was some shelling going on, and the men divided into two groups. However the mission had to be aborted when the Company commander Major Allsworth (who had been leading the other group) was killed. Because of the situation at the cornfield it would have been impossible to take back the injured, so it was decided to leave them and entrust them to the care of the German forces. The men where not to know how foolish this was!

Audio Clip 5:
Richard talks about the attack on Cambes Wood and the fate of his injured colleagues.


The cornfield the men had to cross to reach Cambers Wood.


Cambes Wood

I gazed upon a foreign field
Where British blood was shed
And there I placed a poppy
In remembrance of our dead

My heart was full of sorrow
And my tears began to flow
When came those misty memories
Of that day so long ago

I saw the wood of Cambes appear
In the light of early morn
And riflemen waiting to advance
Across the field of growing corn

When came the thunder of the guns
Lines of riflemen arose as one
And over the field into enemy fire
They advanced at a steady run

They stormed and took the wood
And Cambe village fell by noon
The cost was the blood of riflemen
On that field on that day of June

I bow my head in solemn prayer
My words are firm and true
Rest in peace you Ulster Rifles
For we still remember you

A memorial now stands there
In temperance of those who died
But regardless of the passing years
We still speak of them with pride

This poem (above) was written by a member of the Battalion in memory of those who fought at Cambes Wood.


End of the Fighting
On the 9 June, 150 yards from the edge of the wood and under heavy shelling from the Germans, an 88 dropped close to Richard, injuring his side and effectively ending his part in Operation Overlord! After making his way precariously to a ‘safe area’ he came across the Company’s stretcher-bearers, both wounded! After administering first aid to each other, the men were eventually moved down to their medical post, and from there to a large tent on the beach. Richard had come full circle in three days!

Audio Clip 6:
Richard talks about the premature end of his active service.

He left France soon after, for a Canadian hospital on the South Coast of England, and was then transferred to a British military hospital in Yorkshire. His requests to rejoin the second Battalion were dismissed, his permanent injuries precluding any return to the infantry and ‘the action’. Richard joined the Royal Chorus Signals and spent the rest of the war in a backup unit, who played an important supporting role for the advancing troops in France and Germany. In 1946 he left the military and returned to civilian life.


Richard acknowledges to this day, that his injuries may have saved him. Who knows if he’d of returned, had he continued forging ahead into France with D Company. However this grudging acknowledgement is tinged with a certain amount of regret - as a soldier he regrets missing the battles that he had trained for and the action that he had mentally and physically prepared for, and for the comrades that he never saw again.

Richard travels back often to France, to remember the men who fought and lost their lives advancing into France and this year he shall be attending the 60th Anniversary D-Day Memorials on Sword beach.

Richard Keegan and Paul Murphy War Memorial
Richard and Secretary of State
Paul Murphy at a D-Day memorial service.
The Royal Ulster Rifles War Memorial
in Normandy.
Stanley Burrows and Richard Keegan Sheet of Music about Cambes Wood
Richard and his friend Stanley
Burrows on Sword Beach at a memorial ceremony.
The piece of music presented to Richard
and composed in memory of those who died.


Another Northern Ireland man among the soldiers who landed on Sword beach in June 1944 was Andrew Charles. He spoke to YPAM reporter John Gregg about his experiences, which he has compiled into a book called My War, published by Beechland Publishing. (The interview was broadcast on the programme on 12th June 2004)

Andy Charles' memories of the Normandy landings are very clear, but he obviously wasn't so clear about his age when he went to join up at the age of 17......

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