D-Day 70: Unearthing the horrors of battle

(l-r) Amy Sullivan-Weeks and Jo Jackson (daughter of Mick O'Sullivan) looking through the letters and photographs.''Florence O'Sullivan served during WWI and wrote a letter in 1940 to his nephew Mick O'Sullivan when he got called-up for World War II.''Picture: Allan Hutchings (141716-543)
(l-r) Amy Sullivan-Weeks and Jo Jackson (daughter of Mick O'Sullivan) looking through the letters and photographs.''Florence O'Sullivan served during WWI and wrote a letter in 1940 to his nephew Mick O'Sullivan when he got called-up for World War II.''Picture: Allan Hutchings (141716-543)
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AS Portsmouth takes centre stage for the D-Day commemorations, Jo Jackson has unearthed her father’s graphic account of the Normandy landings.

The story of Mick O’Sullivan, who was 26 when he sailed over to France seven days after the D-Day invasions began on June 6, 1944, tells of the brutality of the battle and the heavy losses suffered by his young comrades.

Mr O’Sullivan lost a leg after a German shell hit him, but lived to tell the tale to his grandchildren.

Jo’s daughter Amy Sullivan-Weeks spoke to her grandfather for a school project when she was in Year 9 almost 20 years ago and recorded the interview on a cassette.

Mr O’Sullivan died in 2003 at the age of 84 and the recording had been sitting in the loft.

Jo and Amy found the cassette and the pair have been listening to it intently.

Mr O’Sullivan, who was in the 12th Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps, was a stretcher bearer and had to deal with the casualties.

Jo, 58, of Beech Grove, Gosport, said: ‘He did what he had to do and he did it well.

‘He was not a great lover of Churchill and the war machine – my dad was flying the flag for his country.

‘But he was a brave man.’

Amy, 29, said: ‘We were talking about the D-Day commemorations and it was a project I had in Year 9.

‘I just wanted to see if we still had the tape. I was quite surprised we still had it – it was in the 90s mix tapes.

‘I think it’s important it’s commemorated.

‘If you look at the amount of people who lost their lives and the effect of losing them on their families.

‘It was people younger than I am.’

The family has also found a letter written to Mick – whose real name was Mortimer – from his uncle, Florence O’Sullivan, who fought in some the bloodiest battles history has ever seen in the First World War.

The letter was dated April 17, 1940 and was sent from Ireland when Mick was called up to help the Allies save Europe from Nazi rule.

The letter says: ‘I have one advice to you – obey each and every order and don’t complain if possible, as I can tell you, complaints don’t look good.

‘Wishing you the best of luck and a safe comeback. Don’t be downhearted.’

The letter also says that ‘every man must do his duty’.

Jo and Amy stressed that Mick was indeed just doing his ‘duty’ when he fought in the landings – like so many, an ordinary, working-class man and not a military enthusiast.

Mr O’Sullivan, who lived in Fareham in his later years, recalled sleeping on petrol cans which had holes in them so the rain would drain through.

He remembered rescuing a man who had been hit by a machine gun and wondering, at any moment, whether the German Waffen SS would shoot at him.

He also recalled training on landing craft in the lochs of Scotland.

Amy said it was important that all generations realise what an important moment in history D-Day was and that it is still relevant today.

‘For us now, we look at wars and it’s always foreign wars,’ she said.

‘It’s never at home. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to have that.

‘It’s hard to imagine the sense of relief if you have seen Hitler going across Europe and other places and thinking you were potentially next.

‘It must have also been the relief of having your loved ones back from war and knowing that it was a turning point and the end was coming.’

The family have also been reminiscing over old photographs and found an envelope that would have contained a letter sent from Mick to his sister from France.

Jo said the 70th anniversary of D-Day would have been important to her father, even though, like so many of his generation, he did not talk about the atrocities of the D-Day landings until much later in his life.

‘He would have wanted to honour his comrades,’ she said.

‘He was proud of what he did and proud of the people he served.’

Mick’s memory of war

When it rained, the trenches we slept in filled with water so what we used to do was get two petrol cans and make holes in them so the rain ran through them and we slept on the cans.

Because the Americans had different rations, they used to swap coffee cubes and sweet biscuits for things like corn beef.

I remember one man was huge and he had been hit by a machine gun in a cornfield. We had to carry him out.

We wore red crosses on an arm band and, theoretically, you were not supposed to be shot at but the Waffen SS still did.

The worst injury I saw was where a man had been under a tree and a shell had gone off in the tree and it knocked him unconscious but also removed all the skin on his back.

Another injury I saw was where a shell had hit this man in the head.

(How I was injured) They were shelling and mortaring us all the time.

As soon as I got across the road a shell or mortar bomb fell on the road between us and it hit me on the leg and chucked us both into the ditch.

Spud said to me ‘that one hit me in the back, Mick’ and I said ‘yes, Spud and it’s hit me in the leg’.

It couldn’t have done a great deal of damage to Spud because he was up and running, but I couldn’t get up.

I was put in the vehicle and it was a half truck with four stretcher racks in the back.

The doctor stuck a pencil in my leg and I said ‘I know it’s gangrenous’ and he said ‘yes, it is.’

I had to have it amputated below the knee.