- Contributed by
- Norman Date
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 January 2004
This account of D-Day was given by Ray Buck and added to the site with his permission by Norman Date, Hon' Secretary of the Merchant Navy Association, Bristol. Ray Buck, MN, fully understands and agrees to the terms and conditions of the site.
Ray Buck's story
In April 1943, after entering the Board of Trade Office in Gloucester Road, Avonmouth, I was asked by the superintendent, Mr Harris, whether I would mind the letter V being stamped on my seaman’s identity card. Having, of course, no idea the significance of this, I readily agreed.
It was not until 2 June 1944, as I was paying off the tanker D L Harper, that I found out the reason for the addition to my ID card. The same Mr Harris informed me that I was expected to report to the Operational Pool in London immediately.
Living in a shoe warehouse
I was given a railway warrant, and I joined about 30 guys on the London train leaving from Temple Meads. On the train were 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.
Replacing the Chinese ratings
On 4 June, Bill and I were directed to the Victoria and Albert Dock, where we joined the Empire Capulet, a ship managed by the Blue Funnel line. We were replacing the Chinese ratings who had prudently departed the ship.
The ship was down to its marks. Every bit of space was taken up by troops and vehicles, including tanks.
Anchored off Southend
That evening we left the dock, and eventually anchored off Southend to await the dawn of 6 June. On that day alone, 864 merchant ships were involved, and at least 156,000 troops were landed.
At noon on D-Day, we joined a vast convoy and sailed to Sword Beach, the area between St Aubin and Ouistreham, and the objective of the British 3rd Division.
Skies awash with Allied aircraft
Overhead the skies were filled with Allied aircraft. We anchored close to the battleships Warspiteand Ramillies and were surrounded by cruisers, destroyers and rocket-firing landing craft. They were all firing continuously.
We were kept busy working the winches and the two jumbo derricks. In co-operation with the Royal Engineers, we off-loaded the tanks, transport and ammo from number-two hold.
Sinking of the Svenner
Earlier that morning, a Norwegian destroyer, the Svenner, had been sunk in our anchorage by German torpedo boats, causing very heavy loss of life. The torpedoes passed between HMS Warspite and HMS Ramillies, hitting the Svenner in the boiler room. The torpedoes broke its back, and the ship sank.
We also had a German coastal battery firing at us. Every now and again, a destroyer would go in at full speed and engage it.
Targeted air strikes
Although the German air force constituted no major threat to the landings, there were at least 22 sorties by aircraft over the beaches. We were unlucky enough to be targeted by one.
Cannon shells hit the Rhinos (big, square pontoons with an engine on the corner) that were tied alongside, and full of men and transport. This caused a fire and many injuries.
The meaning of V
The causalities were retrieved, and we left the beaches and returned to Southampton. There 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.
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