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- 11 April 2004
My Grand father Capt John Summers was the master of the MV Dawlish, a coastal vessel who was requisitioned for use in the landings. In 1944 John was age 70 and my grand mother insisted that one of his sons (all merchant seamen) sail with him. My Dad Hendry Summers volunteered.
They sailed from the south coast (Littlehampton we believe) and arrived on the beaches on D Day +2 (8 June) Grandad was told by the Beach Master to unload his cargo "as close in as possible" and joked that it would be preferable to have it "a few fields back"
Dad was ships cook and told many tales of exchanging food, mainly with Americans and bartering with other supplies.
We understand that they made several passages between England and France. They were asked at some point to negotiate the Caen Canal, which was a difficult task as a boat had been sunk close to the entrance. Grandad, we were told, undertook a fantastic piece of seamanship, using winches he manouvred the vessel around the obstruction and they were the first vessel to sail up the canal.
Grandad was interviewed by the BBC as it was claimed that at age 70, he was the oldest man in the invasion.
On their final run home they hit a huge storm on the Channel Island side of the Cherbourg peninsula. The storm lasted hours and the were going full steam ahead, but only maintaining their position. Grandad said the boat was old and was "popping rivets" and was not strong enough to see out the storm. He made a decision to cross the unswept channel. Dad was on watch and all doors were put on catch all men were given a life jacket and they turned the ship for home. Unknown to them at the time they were followed by 2 other ships.
We beleive they sailed into Plymouth where Grandad was reported to the authorities for crossing an unswept mine field. He was threatened with a Board of Enquiry, but declaired that at 70 he never intended to go back to sea, so they could do as they wished. However all charges were dropped when the Captains of the two following vessels explained that Grandad had "saved their lives and those of their crews by guiding them through a minefield".
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