D-Day veteran shot three times by Nazis is ‘overwhelmed’ by Royal Navy’s D-Day salute
A D-DAY veteran who was shot three times on his 19th birthday while battling the Nazis in Germany has been left ‘overwhelmed’ by plans to honour his courage.
Retired Colour Sergeant Leonard Williams is one of 300 veterans who will be given a gun salute by Royal Navy frigate HMS St Albans as they are ferried from Portsmouth to Normandy in June.
The 93-year-old said the display by the Senior Service had left him speechless.
‘It’s breathtaking to see what they are doing for us,’ he said. ‘It makes you say, “What did I do to deserve this?”. I’m overwhelmed by it.’
Veteran soldier Leonard was one of the tens of thousands of soldiers to take part of Operation Overlord.
He landed on Gold Beach a few days after the initial invasion and joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, fighting through France, Belgium and into Germany.
However, his war ended in the early hours of March 23, 1945, when he crossed the river Rhine into Germany and was blasted by a Nazi soldier.
Acting as a Lance Corporal in charge of a mortar platoon, the just-turned-19-year-old had taken shelter by a flood bank with his men when he was discovered.
‘This German just stood up with this MP 40 Schmeisser machine-gun in the darkness and shot at us,’ said Leonard, of the Isle of Wight. ‘He was only about four or five yards from me and he just let rip with the machine-gun.
‘There were bullets flying everywhere, they hit my rifle, one grazed my knuckle; I got shot in the knee and in the foot. He was about an eighth of an inch from hitting me full-on in the face.
‘He knocked out the whole platoon this one German. He got shot and tumbled down from above us. But that was life.’
Leonard was among the veterans honoured on HMS St Albans as the Ministry of Defence revealed their plans for D-Day 75.
The ship already has a close place in his family’s heart, as his daughter Lorraine Beynon’s late husband, Richard served on it.
Lorraine said: ‘My husband served on this ship but passed away nine weeks ago. It’s like fate that we’re here today. It’s just amazing. And to know that his ship will be saluting my dad is very special.’
Leonard added: ‘They’re treating us like heroes. We’re not heroes, we were just taking orders.’