Sixty-eight years ago today Len Butt was hurled into the maelstrom of the biggest amphibious invasion ever launched – D-Day. He was 18.
Now 86, he is one of an ever-dwindling group of men who took part in Operation Overlord to free Europe from Nazi occupation.
Len was born at Emsworth but has become part of the fabric of village life in nearby Westbourne. He spoke to me of his army life and the part he played saving many lives on that longest day – June 6 1944.
Len was 17 when he joined the Royal Engineers in July 1943. Part of his basic training took him to Romsey and a mock invasion of beaches at the Witterings, near Chichester.
His unit was to land on Juno beach which was divided into three sections, Love, Mike and Nan. Len was to land at Nan as a mine clearance specialist.
By mid-afternoon on June 5 his landing craft with its 120 men and crew left Southampton Water.
Len recalled that everywhere was filled with vessels of all kinds converging to form convoys.
At about 8pm Len’s flotilla sailed past the Isle of Wight. He saw the manicured lawns and buildings of Osborne House glistening in the sunset. The sound of bagpipes echoed across the Solent. It was met with cheers – a sound Len has never forgotten.
On June 6 and 10 miles from the beachhead the men were brought up to prepare for the landing. Len remembers passing several battleships firing their heavy guns – Ramillies, Warspite and the monitor HMS Roberts a 15-inch gunship.
Was he frightened as his craft neared the beach? ‘I think I was more scared of being seen to be scared, to be honest. You didn’t want to let your mates down.’
Under heavy fire the men began moving off the landing craft. Len was expecting the water to be shallow but he dropped into five feet of water with a 100lb pack on his back.
He waded ashore and to his amazement there was the sea wall at Bernieres. They had landed exactly as planned.
Gathering by the sea wall, Len and two others started clearing mines from sand dunes at the top of the sea wall.
More than 2,000 mines were cleared from the Nan section of Juno beach alone.
In September 1944 Len suffered a form of breakdown after he was injured when a member of his team was killed stepping on a mine. He left the army in March 1945 a veteran at the age of 19.