- Contributed by
- Norman Date
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 11 April 2004
In April 1943 and after entering the Board Of Trade Office in Gloucester Road, Avonmouth, I was asked by the Superintendent, Mr Harris whether I would mind a letter `V` being stamped on my Seaman’s Identity Card. Having of course no idea what the significance of this was, I readily agreed. It was not until June 2nd 1944 as I was paying off the tanker, D L Harper that I found out the reason for the addition to my I.D card.
The same Mr Harris informed me that I was expected to report to the Operational Pool in London immediately and I was given a railway warrant. I joined about another 30 guys on the London train leaving from Temple Meads. On this train was P Hosegood of the Avonmouth Mills Company and Bill Escourt who lived in Shirehampton. Having arrived in London we were accommodated at the Bata shoe warehouse in Commercial Road, three floors up and very spartan. On the 4th June both Bill and I were directed to the Victoria & Albert Dock, where we joined the ship, Empire Capulet, managed by the Blue Funnel Line. We were replacing the Chinese ratings who had prudently departed the ship.
The ship was `down to her marks` with every bit of space taken up with troops and vehicles including tanks. That evening we left the dock and eventually anchored off Southend to await the dawn of the 6th of June. At noon on D-Day we joined a vast convoy and sailed to our objective, Sword Beach, overhead the skies were filled with allied aircraft and we anchored close to the battleships ` Warspite and Ramillies` and were surrounded by cruisers, destroyers and rocket firing landing craft all firing continuously.
We were kept busy working the winches and the two jumbo derricks and in co-operation with the Royal Engineers we off-loaded the tanks, transport and ammo from number two hold. Earlier that morning a Norwegian destroyer had been sunk in our anchorage by German torpedo boats, causing very heavy loss of life (note 3). We also had a German coastal battery firing at us and every now and again a destroyer would go in at full speed and engage it.
Although the German air force constituted no major threat to the landings, there were at least 22 sorties by aircraft over the beaches and we were unlucky enough to be targeted by one. Cannon shells hit the `Rhinos` (big square pontoons with an engine on the corner) which were tied alongside and were full of men and transport. This caused a fire and many injuries. The causalities were retrieved and we left the beaches and returned to Southampton where the injured were taken to the military hospital at Netley. So it was that on that historic day I finally discovered the significance of the `V` on my identity card, yes, it stood for that infamous word `Volunteer`.
(1) This year 2004 is the 60th anniversary of the invasion. On the 6th June alone 864 merchant ships were involved. At least 156,000 troops were landed on the day.
(2) Sword beach was the area between St Aubin and Ouistreham and was the objective of the British 3rd Division.
(3) The Norwegian destroyer `Svenner` was sunk by German torpedo boats whose torpedoes passed between HMS Warspite and HMS Ramillies, hitting the Svenner in the boiler room. She broke her back and sank.
From: Norman Date / Hon Secretary/ Merchant Navy Association Bristol UK
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