Seventy-five years after the Normany landings in 1944, we spoke to three veterans who took part in the events that became one of the biggest victories of the Second World War.
Kenneth James William Turner, 94
Kenneth became a rifleman at just 16 and his regiment was largely made up of ex-borstal boys with a bad reputation.
‘If I had to go to war, I’d want to go to war with the borstal boys.
'They were a cracking crowd,’ he remembers.
Ken tested tanks on the Yorkshire Moors.
‘I remember a time when one of the drivers drove a tank into a swamp by accident.
'Luckily, the crew managed to get out, but the tank sunk straight in where it stays to this day!’ recalls Kenneth.
He spent the whole of the war inside an MCA1 tank, the fastest on the battlefield, where his job was to get into an area quickly, have a look around, and get back quickly.
Ken landed in Normandy on the 18th June 1944.
On the 17th July, a German pilot dropped a bomb on Ken’s tank and blew it apart.
Fortunately, most men were underneath it at the time, sheltering from an air raid.
It was getting dark and the Germans fooled them by coming in with their landing lights on, so everyone assumed it was a UK plane coming to land.
Instead, their plan was to wipe out all the tanks.
Wounded in action
Ken remembers trying to save one of his men.
'There was very little of him left from the waist down, he was in an awful state.
'My other crew member and I were taken away on stretchers with lots of wounds, mainly shrapnel in our backs, and I never saw him again.
'I often wonder what happened to him.
'I have an idea I was the only survivor.’
Ken returned to England and was sent to Cardiff to recover.
A few weeks later, a group of girls from a local factory threw a party for the wounded soldiers.
That was the night Ken met his wife Betty.
‘What on earth she saw in me in my hospital blues, I will never know.’
They fell in love straight away.
‘I was sat on the stage playing cards, and in came this girl.
'She was so beautiful.
'We started dancing and that was it.’
Ken and Betty got engaged after a fortnight and were married for ‘54 wonderful years’ until she died in 1999.
Once recovered, Ken was posted to Italy and spent the rest of the war there before rejoining his regiment.
‘It was a funny homecoming, because they all thought I was dead.
'The last time they’d seen me, I was being carried off on a stretcher in Normandy.’
Ken was demobbed at the end of 1946 and returned to Cardiff to marry Betty.
Their son was born in 1947, a daughter two years later.
‘I didn’t know it at the time, but that German airman did me a favour.
'I was sent back to England wounded, and a few weeks later met Betty,’ he smiles.
Arnie Salter, 93
Arnie joined the Navy at 17 in 1942 and became crew on HMS Whippingham, a ship that transported coal and had been used at Dunkirk.
They sailed it to the Normandy landings – though they had no idea what was going on.
‘We weren’t told anything,’ admits Arnie.
‘One minute we were minesweeping in the north and the next thing we knew, we were heading south down the coast of England.
'We dropped anchor near the Isle of Wight and all these Canadian troops came aboard.
'Our crew couldn’t get down below deck to put up our hammocks to sleep.
'Again, we had no idea why they were on board, we just followed orders.’
The ship then travelled across to the French coast.
‘I saw dark shapes on the water – large convoys getting ready to land troops.
'Some smaller ships went under and poor chaps floundered in the water, but we couldn’t stop for them.
'Then everything started happening with troops leaving the ship and going onto the beaches and we had to man the guns and shoot at anything we could – including planes – regardless of who they were, as we couldn’t identify them!’
Cut adrift from shore
After a couple of days aiding the landings, Arnie moved to Arromanches.
One night his boat cut adrift and was swept out to sea.
‘We didn’t know where we were – it was terrifying.
'However, we managed to drift the boat onto a little old port to load up with coal and luckily got back across to Southampton on it.’
From there the crew were ordered to board a brand new destroyer ship, and Arnie became part of a striking force that moved through treacherous waters in the Arctic region seeking out U-boats.
He even dropped grenades into the water to try and get any vessels that were coming near the ship.
In 1950, Arnie was sent to Korea, where he served for a further two years before coming out of service.
‘I’m a very lucky man.
'I witnessed the Coventry blitz, went off to war and saw the landings, and then to survive awful and dangerous conditions in the Arctic was remarkable.
'However, I think my secret to a long life is definitely rum!'
Ronald Francis Wilson, 95
Ronald was working on the trams in Liverpool when he was called for National Service.
‘I was responsible for working on bridging, water systems, mine laying and explosives,’ he says.
He also built the invasion camps in the south of England ready for D-Day.
‘We boarded a boat in early July, which took us over to Normandy, but we didn’t get very far because we hit a mine and the boat was crippled, so we had to be taken off by a destroyer that came alongside us.
'Just 24 hours later we set off again and I wouldn’t return home for another six months.’
Ronald worked on bridging in Caen, which was still occupied.
‘Caen was badly damaged – they suffered a severe air raid while we were there, but when you’re 20 years old, you don’t feel afraid, and we just did as we were told.
'It was an experience.’
Hospitalised for months
After the war, Ronald was posted to Antwerp, as part of the garrison.
‘I remember having my 21st birthday there, and somebody brought me a cake, which was lovely.
We were well-feted by the locals who were delighted to see us, and I was billeted in a local house in a part of the city dubbed the English Corner.’
Less fond memories are of when he was sent to Calcutta.
‘I contracted a nasty skin condition and ended up hospitalised for several months in Darjeeling.
'I was swinging the lead, to be honest – I realised if I had a cold shower the rash would reappear, so I got away with it for ages until I had to rejoin my unit in the Far East.
'But then my demob number came up and I returned home.’
Ronald wed his late wife Irene in 1948 and they were married for just shy of 60 years.
They have two children, Brian and Diane, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
And despite being 95, Ronald gives those young’uns a run for their money – he plays table tennis four times a week and coaches kids.
He received the Légion d’Honneur on his last birthday from French Honorary Consul Aude Auclair, who told him, ‘Without your sacrifices, France, and indeed Europe, would not be what they are today’.
Despite this, he doesn’t like being called a hero.
‘Good heavens, far from it.
'I just did what everybody else did, we operated as a group, we were a group of guys just doing a job.’
– The Royal British Legion is taking up to 300 Normandy veterans to France on a specially chartered ship for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
To find out more about the life long support the Legion provides to the Armed Forces Community – CLICK HERE
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