D-Day 70: A young boy’s lesson for life

Churchill tanks waiting to embark for D-Day at Lee-on-the-Solent
Churchill tanks waiting to embark for D-Day at Lee-on-the-Solent
Members of the British Army's 'Ice Maiden' Expedition in Antarctica Picture: Hugh Robertson/PA Wire

Joy as Portsmouth army medic completes epic South Pole trek

Have your say

AS A young boy in Gosport, the days leading up to D-Day were the most exciting in my life.

On our streets we had tanks, enormous lorries and guns and everywhere you looked there were soldiers.

These men left their families and were going off somewhere to sort out the terrible Germans who dropped bombs on us, killed our neighbours and friends and wrecked our railway station and cinema. All over Gosport there were large piles of rubble where homes had been.

Of the many incidents that occurred, perhaps the one I remember most was when, because we had no air raid shelter then, I was sleeping under the stairs. In the middle of the night I awoke to the sound of an explosion and was lifted by the blast and thumped my head on the underside of the stairs. Next day the top of my street was piles of rubble where houses had been.

After a number of similar incidents and discussing them with my friends, it is no surprise that I was growing up to use the phrase, ‘the only good German is a dead German.’

As D-Day approached and the armour and troops filled our streets, there was great relief that at last we were going to hit back and this dreadful war could be coming to an end. As the preparations gained momentum, security was obviously tight but us kids went everywhere. We kids loved the soldiers and the soldiers loved us.

Today we know why. This was because they had left their children and families behind and did not know whether they would ever see them again. So in a sense, without knowing it, we were helping these brave men to come to terms with the dreadful situation they were caught up in.

The day of D-Day started like any other until we set foot outside our houses. The troops had gone.

I set off with friends to Hardway to see what was happening and then we heard the news that these brave men, who had become our real friends, had invaded Normandy.

As I recall, apart from the occasional loading of reinforcements, there was nothing like the activity on the embarkation sites that had occurred during the previous days and weeks.

Gradually, however, the horrors of war became apparent to us. Incoming landing craft were being met by a fleet of ambulances to take the wounded off to hospitals in the area. The most seriously wounded would go to Haslar but all hospitals in the area were extremely busy. There was also the site of the bodies of those servicemen who had been killed being unloaded. An extremely harrowing and unforgettable experience for us children.

In the early evening of June 7, the day after D-Day, we noticed a Landing Ship, Tank making its way up the harbour towards the slipway. We could not believe our eyes. As the landing craft hit the ramps the large bow doors opened and one British soldier with his gun casually over his shoulder, descended.

He was followed by hundreds of Germans.

The Germans were, in the main, pathetic, bedraggled figures. I, along with most of those who witnessed this scene, could not believe these were the frightening monsters who had done such terrible things to our town and its people. It now came home to us that they were human beings just like us.

The conflict in all of our minds was summed up by the actions of householders nearby who were viewing the scene. Some were offering cups of coffee to these defeated soldiers while others were taking the coffee away.

That scene certainly was a life changing moment for me. Its experience taught me of the futility of war and I definitely never again used the phrase, ‘The only good German is a dead German’.