War reaches England

Jim Tuckwell - British Infantry

Jim Tuckwell – British Infantry

D-Day was not an exclusive American story.

The Americans had more than 1.5 million service men in Great Britain by June of 1944. Many of these men would land on the Normandy coast along with 14 British, three Canadian, one French and one Polish unit.

Many refugee fighters from the nations such as Holland, Belgium, and other allied nations who had previously fallen to Hitler’s Third Reich, also participated.

In Portsmouth, England, a few of the English veterans still gather to remember their service.

“We meet once a month, go on different trips, and have dinner a couple of times a year,” said Lionel Emans, infantryman Hampshire Regiment.

Like many veterans organizations, the Normandy Veterans Association (NVA) is designed to rekindle the comradeship that the men experienced during the battles they fought in.

The gentlemen participate in the events that the NVA conducts including trips back to the beaches that they landed on.

It allows the men to share their past with others who went through similar experiences.

The NVA is dedicated to educating the youth by sharing their experience and knowledge at the D-day Museum and in local schools.

Some members of the NVA discussed their experiences in World War II during a visit to the museum.

“We were on the extreme left flank; no troops were able to go ashore,” said Arthur Thomas Ayshford, third British Infantry Division. The ramp dropped and the first vehicle to hit the bottom of the ramp was blown up.”

His unit landed on Sword Beach on D-Day at 8:30 a.m.

“The landing craft drifted to the left, hit a mine, then there was an explosion in the stern, we hit another mine and the engine room was knocked out,” Ayshford said.

It was later discovered that the landing craft did not hit a mine at all. They had been struck by German artillery.

The unit had come in at high tide, and as the day continued the men remained on the landing craft. The beach continued to get bigger throughout the day, and eventually the men found themselves high and dry on the beach, a sitting duck for the German artillery.

The unit reported they were not able to land, and were given orders to provide covering fire to the British troops landing to their right.

“We got the map reference and we extended our guns and began firing,” Ayshford said. “Shells landed on both sides of us and we stopped firing.”

Ayshford said the Germans were, “gentlemen artillerymen.”

“As long as we did not do our job, they didn’t do theirs,” he said.

Eventually, by the time Ayshford got off the landing craft in the midday, the gentlemen artillery had been wiped out by then.

“A beach clearing party came up,” Ayshford said. “A Churchill tank, ripped off the ramp, scooped up sand and built a sand ramp and we were able to drive off.”

Another British soldier, Jim Tuckwell joined the British Army Infantry on June 18, 1942. Prior to the war he worked on naval ships in Gosport, just across the bay from Portsmouth. He describes the realistic training that he received for the invasion of Normandy.

“We started doing assault training,” Tuckwell said. “We were picked up on the LCI, landing craft infantry. Going out to sea and then coming into shore and landing. To get used to the fact that we had to land under those conditions, the first one we did was on Aiming Island and it was rough sea and two blokes got drowned coming into shore.”

“On the evening of the fourth of June we got on the big ship that we were going over on. We were all on board an extra day,” Tuckwell said.

The invasion was delayed 24 hours by General Dwight Eisenhower. The men remained on the boat and many suffered from seasickness. On the morning of June 6, his ship finally landed at Sword Beach.

“The noise, I cannot describe the noise, it was terrific,” Tuckwell said. “Shells being fired from the battle ships. As we got closer to the shore there were machine guns firing from the landing craft and we were being fired on from the Germans.”

As the ramp went down on his LCI the men ran out on to the beach. Many of the men on these landing craft were injured before they even had a chance to fire their weapons. This was the case for Tuckwell.

“As I am getting out of the landing craft, I felt this punch on my arm and I said to my mate ‘What did you hit me for’ I thought that through the confusion he had hit me with his gun,” Tuckwell said.

His mate had not hit him; it was a German bullet that had hit him in the arm. He realized this as blood began to run down his arm. The medic that was with the unit put some field dress on his wound and told him to get to the top of the beach.

“I got up to the top of the beach,” he said. “I thought well he will see to it and I will go on then. Just at that time I got hit in the chest. He (the medic) came back up and dressed it, he said ‘You stay there and I will be back in a moment’ I must have passed out there.”

When he got hit the second time, it was about 11 a.m. The next memory he has is at 5 p.m. He was taken to a make-shift hospital tent on the beach, were he spent his first night in France.

“That night was the only night that the German bombers came over and bombed the beach,” Tuckwell said. “All I have above my head is a piece of canvas, and I am on the top bunk.”

He made it through the air raid and was shipped back to Gosport the next morning. His injuries were not life threatening and he returned to Normandy in six weeks to join the fighting again.