71st Anniversary of D day – A Special Day

With its shuttered châteaus, cobbled streets, Norman churches and cascading blooms tumbling from balconies, being in Normandy France is always a pleasant experience.  But being there on the 6th June, the anniversary of the allied Normandy invasion, puts a whole different prospective on the experience.

For the first time tourist, visiting all of the major commemorative sites such as the cemeteries and invasion beaches moves ones heart and mind into an unexpected emotive state.

When visiting Bayeux cemetery, the biggest British and Commonwealth cemetery,you come to a place of peace and tranquillity, each grave adorned with plants and small shrubs that caress carved names and ranks of the soldiers that lie there.2015-06-05 01.26.42

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Omaha Beach, the American sector of the invasion beaches, its cemetery lying just above the beach where so many lost their lives on the 6th June 1944 and beyond, causes one to gasp at the sheer scale of the rows and rows of crosses that go on as far as the eye can see.

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What a serene sight, these young men laid to rest with the crystal blue of the channel of which they crossed with such bravery and hope for success, glistening in the background.

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But what did it for me, as it always does, was the Normandy Veterans.  Who, despite the Normandy Veterans Association disbanding in 2014, still make this pilgrimage to be here on the anniversary of D day, 6th June 1944, 71 years ago, amidst the ever grateful Normandy civilians who pay homage to these wonderful gentlemen.

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The crowds come from all over the world to witness this spectacle of unassuming old soldiers revel in the glory we all, quite rightly, give them.

And on this great day of remembrance and thanks, the sun shone, the military marched,2015-06-05 20.23.26

the pipers played, the parachutists dropped from the skies all over Normandy.2015-06-05 21.30.35

There were hymns, prayers and heartfelt words from the Mayor of Normandy bringing tears to the eyes of all.

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There was music, jitterbugging, laughter and tears.2015-06-06 03.50.28

Fireworks, applause, handshakes and embraces.

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But the most emotive of all …….

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…… was the promise to do it all again – next year.

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I will be there.

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A Long time – but I`m back

2015-03-26 14.01.00Sorry I haven`t posted for a while but I`ve been busy with house – builders – children – wildlife ponds and animals etc.  Just to back me up as we writers can elaborate, here are a few photographs:         2015-05-11 23.21.00There isn`t much writing here I know – but who wants to see a page full of text when the visual element is so much more rewarding.  (I know I am making excuses here)  I forgot to add that I am also still busy with my novel so I hope you understand the predicament I sometimes find myself in – but I promise I will try – for the few of you who may be out there reading my blog – to post a little more regularly as that is the writers new rule – to connect with readers, (just been told that by an article in Mslexia which gave me the jolt to do this) and my goodness it would be nice to know once in a while that I am connecting!  It is also a relief to write freely and not be loaded down with meticulous research which my novel demands.  With the builders gone, the animals fed and watered, the wildlife pond completed, my grandson handed back to his parents, even if it is with a few photos here and there – I will keep in touch.  It would be nice to hear from you too.2014-06-23 13.34.27                                        2015-04-05 14.37.45-1 2015-05-12 04.01.30-1 2014-06-23 12.10.39 2015-05-10 10.33.39

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I am very privileged to work at the National Holocaust downloadCentre in Laxton, Nottinghamshire. I was not looking for work of this kind, but the opportunity just fell on me, as we sometimes find the best things that come our way, does.  The Holocaust is not a subject I am dealing with at the moment in my writing, but certainly comes within the era, the Holocaust of course mainly taking place during the Second World War.  I say mainly, because anti-Semitism in Germany, started way before the outbreak of the war, Hitler just pounced on the rapid rise of Nazism as war broke out, with the demise of the Jewish population already festering in the realms of this brutish regime.

Many people may think that working at a place like this, is oppressive and filled with download (4)morbidity and gloom.  But, although this subject is terrible for the Jewish population and many others that did not fall in the group of Hitler`s idealism of the `perfect race`, when you walk through the gateway to the centre, one meets a glorious display of white roses, poignant in their serenity and meaning.

For it is here, in the Memorial Garden, where the many relatives and descendants can come and plant a rose and a plaque in memory of the loved ones they have lost, many of them, having not even known them.plaque

The growing pile of stones to the right of the entrance, depicts a child, each stone representing a child lost in the Holocaust – of which any member of the public can add to.  There are many corners and alcoves in the one acre Memorial Garden, cradling benches where you can sit and listen to the birds, the perfume of the roses mystifying the already tranquil setting. Just reading the plaques is emotional in itself and one doesn`t have to have lost a relative in that horrific period to have the sense of bewilderment to ask – Why? –  How?

The staff of the National Holocaust  Centre doesn`t try to answer these questions, but display an understanding to the many young school groups and members of the public, that this story needs telling and they do it with pleasant and very helpful staff who are on hand to answer questions and worries.download (7)

With survivors of the Holocaust coming to the centre to give talks on their own personal experience, coming here to listen to these people adds further depth to the understanding and sensitivity to this most inconceivable subject.

The main exhibition covers Jewish life in Europe before the war; the rise of National Socialism; ghettos;resistance; concentration and death camps; survival and post-war justice and rescuers.download (3)

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The only Holocaust Centre in Europe that has a Holocaust display for primary school children and despite many warnings that this would not be a positive experience for these youngsters, it has in fact proved a resounding success with the children moving through the time with a fictitious boy of their age,Leo Stein, who tells his story entitled,The Journey.

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 Leo shares, with the visiting children, his experiences and emotions whilst moving through Leo`s home, school and street, told in such a way that the children may understand Leo`s plight without trauma or upset.  Instead his story opens up the youngsters enquiring minds with many thoughts and questions which the centre staff answer with sensitivity.  Adults too, enjoy this part of the exhibition.

I know that by working here, my knowledge of the Holocaust will benefit and to help people and children share this experience is a great honour. The centre, far from being harrowing gives the unique opportunity for remembrance and reflection and with what is happening again in far away places, that cannot be a bad thing.

So, during the next few months, as my experience grows, I hope you will share this journey with me.

National Holocaust Centre

Laxtondownload (6)

Newark

Notts

NG22 0PA

01623 836627

http://www.holocaustcentre.net

Opening Hours

10.30 – 4.00

Dday to Master of Arts Degree. A Seventy Year Anniversary Tribute

RON HAMPSHIRECold, wet, sea-sick, shot at, blown up, hurled into the sea to fire upon an invisible enemy desperate to kill you.  Can we imagine it?

When Ronald White collected his Honorary Master of Arts Degree at Portsmouth university for book-binding, it was he says, “The proudest day of my life.”  At Ninety years old, this extraordinary man, worked from the front room of the family home.  Portsmouth university granted Ron the Master of Arts Degree for his contribution and commitment to the university and its research students.  For over thirty years Ron bound the theses of the students towards their degrees using the skills he originally acquired as an apprentice bookbinder some sixty years previous.  A great honour indeed.  But when I got this man to talk about D-day and his role played in it, another side of him appeared – unassuming and reflective.

175,00 men, 5,333 ships and landing crafts, 5,000 vehicles and 11,000 planes set sail on the 5th of June 1944 across a hundred miles of English Channel. After five years of war and with news of the atrocities in the concentration camps, England and German occupied countries were wilting under the strain and deprivations of war.  By 1943, Hitler understood that an invasion would come.  Fortification of the coastal defences in France was already underway.

Under the command of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Hitler envisaged the Atlantic Wall, stretching along 3,000 miles of Belgium, Dutch and Danish coastline and the entire coast of Normandy, to be an unbreakable barrier fortified with enough artillery to foil even a massive invasion attempt.  Thirty thousand German troops defended the area that included fifteen thousand concrete bunkers ranging from small pill boxes to great fortresses.  Rommel ordered the placement of deadly mined beach obstacles all along the French coast.  Hitler knew the invasion would determine the war`s outcome.

Operation Overlord, the code-name for the invasion of Normandy, was four years in the planning, two years in the organizing and one in the undertaking. The plan entailed the landings of nine divisions of sea and airborne troops along a fifty-mile stretch of the Normandy coastline in just 24 hours.

Ron and I reflect on his time in the war at the Golden Lion pub in Southwick, nr Portsmouth.  The pub General Eisenhower and General Montogomery frequented having secret meetings of the planning of Operation Overlord.

Ron and I reflect on his time in the war at the Golden Lion pub in Southwick, nr Portsmouth. The pub General Eisenhower and General Montgomery frequented having secret meetings of the planning of Operation Overlord.

But all did not go to plan. The invasion was originally planned for the 5th June, but the  weather, during the three preceding days of the landings, dealt the planners a vicious mix of gale force winds and driving rain. General Eisenhower had no choice but to postpone the invasion for 24 hours.  The allied troops were already aboard their designated ships and landing crafts, but because of security and the impossibility of disembarking and embarking again, the troops had to spend three days and nights aboard the ships living in terrible cramped conditions, their morales also starting to take a nose-dive.

General Eisenhower and his commanders, locked in deep conference at Southwick House near Portsmouth, spent a dismal twenty-four hours pacing the floor and watching the skies. But then Group Captain Stagg, a senior meteorologist suddenly entered the room.  “Gentlemen there have been some rapid and unexpected developments in the situation.”  Stagg forecast a window in the weather, lasting just a little over 24 hours, even though it still fell short of the minimum requirements.

General Eisenhower, sitting with hands clasped tightly, his face locked in deep concentration painfully announced.  “I am quite  positive we must give the order.  I don`t like it gentlemen – but there it is.  I don`t see how we can do anything else.”

At the 4am conference, General Eisenhower confirmed his decision with the words, “Ok – le`s go!”  The fuse had been lit.  Operation Overlord, the invasion of Hitler`s fortress was about to begin.

General Eisenhower`s message to the allied troops

General Eisenhower`s message to the allied troops

During the early hours of 5th and 6th June, allied paratroopers and glider troops silently landed behind enemy lines securing roads and bridges that were vital for the success of the landings.  Just after midnight the aerial bombardment of the Normandy coastline began.  Formation after formation of B-26 bombers and RAF Lancaster’s roared overhead pounding the enemy mercilessly.

At 5am the first of the heavy warships swept up from behind the convoy.  The firing power of the fleet was colossal.  Continuous shells tore above the armada exploding on the shore.  An orange horizon of crawling black smoke obscured the view from the ships.  As dawn broke the vastness of the fleet was apparent.  The sea was black with ships. The Germans had taken a pounding.  Deep in their gun batteries they quivered with fear as the walls and ceilings of their tombs reverberated around them.  The allies were told not to fear a heavy defence from their enemy.  They would be destroyed before they even set foot on French soil.   But the weather, although improved, was still a formidable opponent for the air and sea bombardment.  With landing zones obscured with poor visibility, the shells and bombs overshot to the maze of fields and hamlets inland.  The Germans emerged from their bunkers shocked, with the fight knocked out of them, but never the will power or desire –  they were waiting for the allies.

Out in the channel, the ships and landing crafts were fast approaching the coast. Troops began assembling in landing crafts whilst twenty-foot waves soaked them as they struggled to stay afloat in the treacherous sea.

“Everyone was being sick,” explained Ron. “Over the sides, in their helmets, on their boots.  It was terrible.  The landing craft was awash with it.  Some of the men felt so bad I don`t think they were bothered if they got shot.  They just wanted to get out of those boats.”

The boats ploughed on as German shells landed amongst them.  “The Germans threw everything at us,”  Ron told me.  “As the bullets zipped around you, you just thought, God, how am I going to survive this.”

As the order, “Ramps down!” was given, the troops perilously stumbled waist deep into the sea.  Many drowned as the sheer weight they were carrying dragged them down into the murky depths of the water.  Many died before they even got a foot out of the craft, mowed down as the enemy guns tore into them.  Landing crafts became entangled on the mined obstacles that littered the shoreline snaring them into a catalyst of hell before blowing them sky-high, torn flesh showering the living.

“Much the greatest thing we have ever attempted.” Winston Churchill. 

At 7.25am on the 6th June 1944, Sergeant Ronald White, with his regiment now known as the Royal Hampshire Regiment, led the British assault storming Gold Beach in Normandy France. The 3rd British Infantry Division along with the Canadians on Juno Beach and the Americans on Omaha and Utah, began the invasion of France.  despite the murderous gunfire, many falling, dying, but never taken prisoner, the Hampshire  forged forward finally taking the German strongpoints that had killed so many.

Ron reflects on the loss of his comrades on `Jig Green` a sector of Gold Beach, where the Hampshire Regiment came ashore on Dday

Ron reflects on the loss of his comrades on `Jig Green` a sector of Gold Beach, where the Hampshire Regiment came ashore on D-day

“I look back now and I don`t know how I came through it.  Many of my friends didn`t.  I was just lucky, really lucky  The Germans threw everything at us and as the bullets zipped around us, you just thought God, how am I going to survive this.  If anyone was wounded, we couldn`t help.  People were screaming for help but you had to leave them for the medics, we had to keep going forward.”

Ron with Madam Gondre outside the Cafe Gondre at Pegasus Bridge captured by the British 6th Airborne in the early hours of Dday - the first building to be liberated by the allies on the 6th June.  Madam Gondre was just a child on Dday and she keeps the cafe as a shrine to the Normandy landings.  The taking of the bridges was crucial to the success of the landings.

Ron with Madam Gondre outside the Cafe Gondre at Pegasus Bridge captured by the British 6th Airborne in the early hours of D-day – the first building to be liberated by the allies on the 6th June. Madam Gondre was just a child on D-day and she keeps the cafe as a shrine to the Normandy landings. The taking of the bridges was crucial to the success of the landings.

Beneath the quiet dignity that Ron exuded, he spoke very modestly about his role on D-day.  When asked about how he coped with the death and horror he saw, he quietly contemplated.  “I know it sounds harsh, but you got hardened to it.  I saw men with heads blown off, limbs torn from their bodies, stomachs hanging out.  You just thought, hard luck mate and carried on.  You had to – or how else would you have coped.”  A shadow shifted across Ron`s face.  “If anyone was wounded, we couldn`t help.  People were screaming for help but you had to leave them for the medics, we just had to keep going forward or we would have copped it too.

“By nightfall of the 6th June, some 175,000 troops had come ashore at a cost of 4900 casualties. The beaches were relatively secure, but the fight was not yet over.

The Hampshire Regiment tentatively fought their way through the laborious terrain of   Normandy countryside through the bocage country, a formidable labyrinth of numerous winding roads and maze of sunken lanes with a density of impenetrable high hedges bounded on both sides that hid the enemy.  Taking more casualties, they fought onto the Eastern Netherlands where Ron was wounded and he returned home to England.  After four years away – his war finally over.

It took many months for the allies to fight their way through the heavily defended Normandy countryside with the loss of many more men.  It took almost another year to reach and defeat Germany during the spring of 1945.

Ron and I on a visit to Falais

Ron and I on a visit to Falais

“Losing the war was never an option.  England is the best country in the world, there was no way we were ever going to give it up to the Germans.  I don`t have nightmares about the war, but it does all come back to me whenever I meet some of my old comrades of my regiment.  I think I am very lucky to have survived.  Many of my friends didn`t.  People often ask me how did you do it?  You did it because you were trained and disciplined. If you were given an order, you didn`t argue, you just did it.”

After the war, Ron went back to his trade has bookbinder at the Printers Coasbys.  After another twenty-eight years he joined Holbrooks printers and five years later in 1975, Ron had saved enough money to become self-employed as a master craftsman.  Many a student visited Ron and was rewarded by a kind and courteous man who bound their theses with the skill of a master of his trade.

Ron stands by the grave of his best friend Tommy who was killed by a sniper in front of him.

Ron stands by the grave of his best friend Tommy who was killed by a sniper in front of him.

Here was a man who had dedicated his life to books. On the wall of his workshop was a very poignant souvenir plaque that read, “It`s nice to be important, but it`s important to be nice.” Having met Ron, one quickly became aware that this quiet unassuming man had much in his life to be proud.

Sadly, my friend has now passed away.  But the memories stay with me.  The memory of escorting him to Normandy to visit his friend`s grave – Tommy, who was shot by a sniper in front of him, memories of him staying with us, meeting his family and laughing so much he made me cry. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He and thousands like him, travelled hundreds of miles to the shores of Normandy, sixty-nine years ago, to risk and give their lives to a cause that rid our world of nazi tyranny.  Ron never wavered in his beliefs and he never  expected to live through the war.  He went on to not only be honoured for his bravery in the war, but also for his exemplary work in the art of bookbinding.

In Ron`s own words, “It`s a job well done.”

An excerpt from my novel:

But now in the landing craft, the Normandy coast fast approaching, fear took on a resounding truthfulness.  Saliva negligible, blinking eyes refusing the onset of the fast approaching inconceivable terror. Hearts beating against a breathless panic, a bladder refusing to remain intact surging unwelcome warmth upon khaki cloth already sodden from wild seas.  The word fear had not been defined to Jack – his previous definitions of the word were now devoid – depleted – misguided.  Sam cowered, head held low, a German`s bullet maybe a welcome relief from this misery.  The water, a fathom of it, a few inches beneath him, would choke him, eyes bulging, tongue protruding, lungs exploding. The assault crafts of the flotilla dipped and rolled the undulating waves that crashed over the gunwales.  Vomiting was continuous and unrelenting.  Sea spray soaked the young men who, after months of hard training, transporting them from adolescence to manhood now unashamed, desperately required the embrace of their mothers.  The stink of engine oil, the landing craft like matchboxes rolling this way, rolling that way, lifted up, smashed back down again.  Darting eyes, thumping hearts, tears and rosaries held in white knuckles.  A mighty fleet forging onward, lines and lines of ships, destroyers, battleships, landing craft, a magnitude of power carrying youth too young for death, for life, for fear – just babes trying to be men.WORLD WAR TWO SOLDIER

My novel is dedicated to Sergeant Ronald White (Blanco) who mentored me throughout my struggle to `get things right`.  I hope I have done him proud. 

May his memory and countless thousands of others who died in this campaign, live on in my work.

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ImageThe life of a dog compared to ours, is quite short.  When purchasing a new dog, we make the decision to endure the trials and tribulations of puppyhood the companionship and loyalty of adulthood and the heartache of illness and inevitability of losing our lifelong friend. I have had dogs for most of my life and tried a brief period of abstaining after losing my fabulous and as I thought at the time, irreplaceable Golden Retriever Sam.  After spending nearly all of my life looking after dogs, walking, feeding, training, clearing up the mess and grooming, never mind the expense, I thought it was time for some `me` time.  Trapped in the depths of grief of the passing of Sam, I was absolute in my decision.  That decision lasted all of three days.  Of course Sam is irreplaceable.  But why would I want to replace him?  He was Sam in his own right and always will be. But what I did need to replace and was missing – was my companion and friend.

Those of you who have read one of my previous posts `Living with Amy` will know what happened next.  And those of you who haven`t – please do, as this next excerpt of her life, might counteract all that I have told you before.  Although living through all of that was true and is imprinted on my brain – and heart forever, what Amy has become now, is loyal, loving, fun, beautiful and oh – very stubborn!!  (She has now decided, for whatever reason, and after months of travel, to take a dislike of getting into the car and a tractor wouldn`t move her!)  I will let you know what happens on that score.  But for now, please enjoy these photographs of her metamorphose into adulthood.  One that is captivating, funny and wonderful.  And for those of you about to get a puppy – good luck (you`ll need it).  And for those of you who have had the heartache of losing your lifelong friend and have decided not to have another because they are `irreplaceable` – I hope after following Amy – you will think again.

And finally – just before I go – I would like to prove this point by introducing you to Henry – my new addition.  I have done it all over again!!!  To be continued…….Photo0460_001 (1)Photo0446_001 (1)

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ImageImageImageImageOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAamy beach 1OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAMY SWIMOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dday to Master of Arts Degree. A Sixty – Nine Year Anniversary Tribute

RON HAMPSHIRECold, wet, sea-sick, shot at, blown up, hurled into the sea to fire upon an invisible enemy desperate to kill you.  Can we imagine it?

When Ronald White collected his Honorary Master of Arts Degree at Portsmouth university for book-binding, it was he says, “The proudest day of my life.”  At Ninety years old, this extraordinary man, worked from the front room of the family home.  Portsmouth university granted Ron the Master of Arts Degree for his contribution and commitment to the university and its research students.  For over thirty years Ron bound the theses of the students towards their degrees using the skills he originally acquired as an apprentice bookbinder some sixty years previous.  A great honour indeed.  But when I got this man to talk about D-day and his role played in it, another side of him appeared – unassuming and reflective.

175,00 men, 5,333 ships and landing crafts, 5,000 vehicles and 11,000 planes set sail on the 5th of June 1944 across a hundred miles of English Channel. After five years of war and with news of the atrocities in the concentration camps, England and German occupied countries were wilting under the strain and deprivations of war.  By 1943, Hitler understood that an invasion would come.  Fortification of the coastal defences in France was already underway.

  Under the command of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Hitler envisaged the Atlantic Wall, stretching along 3,000 miles of Belgium, Dutch and Danish coastline and the entire coast of Normandy, to be an unbreakable barrier fortified with enough artillery to foil even a massive invasion attempt.  Thirty thousand German troops defended the area that included fifteen thousand concrete bunkers ranging from small pill boxes to great fortresses.  Rommel ordered the placement of deadly mined beach obstacles all along the French coast.  Hitler knew the invasion would determine the war`s outcome.

Operation Overlord, the code-name for the invasion of Normandy, was four years in the planning, two years in the organizing and one in the undertaking. The plan entailed the landings of nine divisions of sea and airborne troops along a fifty-mile stretch of the Normandy coastline in just 24 hours. 

Ron and I reflect on his time in the war at the Golden Lion pub in Southwick, nr Portsmouth.  The pub General Eisenhower and General Montogomery frequented having secret meetings of the planning of Operation Overlord.

Ron and I reflect on his time in the war at the Golden Lion pub in Southwick, nr Portsmouth. The pub General Eisenhower and General Montgomery frequented having secret meetings of the planning of Operation Overlord.

 But all did not go to plan. The invasion was originally planned for the 5th June, but the  weather, during the three preceding days of the landings, dealt the planners a vicious mix of gale force winds and driving rain. General Eisenhower had no choice but to postpone the invasion for 24 hours.  The allied troops were already aboard their designated ships and landing crafts, but because of security and the impossibility of disembarking and embarking again, the troops had to spend three days and nights aboard the ships living in terrible cramped conditions, their morales also starting to take a nose-dive.

General Eisenhower and his commanders, locked in deep conference at Southwick House near Portsmouth, spent a dismal twenty-four hours pacing the floor and watching the skies. But then Group Captain Stagg, a senior meteorologist suddenly entered the room.  “Gentlemen there have been some rapid and unexpected developments in the situation.”  Stagg forecast a window in the weather, lasting just a little over 24 hours, even though it still fell short of the minimum requirements.

General Eisenhower, sitting with hands clasped tightly, his face locked in deep concentration painfully announced.  “I am quite  positive we must give the order.  I don`t like it gentlemen – but there it is.  I don`t see how we can do anything else.”

At the 4am conference, General Eisenhower confirmed his decision with the words, “Ok – le`s go!”  The fuse had been lit.  Operation Overlord, the invasion of Hitler`s fortress was about to begin.

General Eisenhower`s message to the allied troops

General Eisenhower`s message to the allied troops

During the early hours of 5th and 6th June, allied paratroopers and glider troops silently landed behind enemy lines securing roads and bridges that were vital for the success of the landings.  Just after midnight the aerial bombardment of the Normandy coastline began.  Formation after formation of B-26 bombers and RAF Lancaster’s roared overhead pounding the enemy mercilessly.

  At 5am the first of the heavy warships swept up from behind the convoy.  The firing power of the fleet was colossal.  Continuous shells tore above the armada exploding on the shore.  An orange horizon of crawling black smoke obscured the view from the ships.  As dawn broke the vastness of the fleet was apparent.  The sea was black with ships. The Germans had taken a pounding.  Deep in their gun batteries they quivered with fear as the walls and ceilings of their tombs reverberated around them.  The allies were told not to fear a heavy defence from their enemy.  They would be destroyed before they even set foot on French soil.   But the weather, although improved, was still a formidable opponent for the air and sea bombardment.  With landing zones obscured with poor visibility, the shells and bombs overshot to the maze of fields and hamlets inland.  The Germans emerged from their bunkers shocked, with the fight knocked out of them, but never the will power or desire –  they were waiting for the allies.

 Out in the channel, the ships and landing crafts were fast approaching the coast. Troops began assembling in landing crafts whilst twenty-foot waves soaked them as they struggled to stay afloat in the treacherous sea. 

“Everyone was being sick,” explained Ron. “Over the sides, in their helmets, on their boots.  It was terrible.  The landing craft was awash with it.  Some of the men felt so bad I don`t think they were bothered if they got shot.  They just wanted to get out of those boats.”

The boats ploughed on as German shells landed amongst them.  “The Germans threw everything at us,”  Ron told me.  “As the bullets zipped around you, you just thought, God, how am I going to survive this.”

  As the order, “Ramps down!” was given, the troops perilously stumbled waist deep into the sea.  Many drowned as the sheer weight they were carrying dragged them down into the murky depths of the water.  Many died before they even got a foot out of the craft, mowed down as the enemy guns tore into them.  Landing crafts became entangled on the mined obstacles that littered the shoreline snaring them into a catalyst of hell before blowing them sky-high, torn flesh showering the living. 

          “Much the greatest thing we have ever attempted.” Winston Churchill. 

At 7.25am on the 6th June 1944, Sergeant Ronald White, with his regiment now known as the Royal Hampshire Regiment, led the British assault storming Gold Beach in Normandy France. The 3rd British Infantry Division along with the Canadians on Juno Beach and the Americans on Omaha and Utah, began the invasion of France.  despite the murderous gunfire, many falling, dying, but never taken prisoner, the Hampshire  forged forward finally taking the German strongpoints that had killed so many.

Ron reflects on the loss of his comrades on `Jig Green` a sector of Gold Beach, where the Hampshire Regiment came ashore on Dday

Ron reflects on the loss of his comrades on `Jig Green` a sector of Gold Beach, where the Hampshire Regiment came ashore on D-day

“I look back now and I don`t know how I came through it.  Many of my friends didn`t.  I was just lucky, really lucky  The Germans threw everything at us and as the bullets zipped around us, you just thought God, how am I going to survive this.  If anyone was wounded, we couldn`t help.  People were screaming for help but you had to leave them for the medics, we had to keep going forward.”

Ron with Madam Gondre outside the Cafe Gondre at Pegasus Bridge captured by the British 6th Airborne in the early hours of Dday - the first building to be liberated by the allies on the 6th June.  Madam Gondre was just a child on Dday and she keeps the cafe as a shrine to the Normandy landings.  The taking of the bridges was crucial to the success of the landings.

Ron with Madam Gondre outside the Cafe Gondre at Pegasus Bridge captured by the British 6th Airborne in the early hours of D-day – the first building to be liberated by the allies on the 6th June. Madam Gondre was just a child on D-day and she keeps the cafe as a shrine to the Normandy landings. The taking of the bridges was crucial to the success of the landings.

Beneath the quiet dignity that Ron exuded, he spoke very modestly about his role on D-day.  When asked about how he coped with the death and horror he saw, he quietly contemplated.  “I know it sounds harsh, but you got hardened to it.  I saw men with heads blown off, limbs torn from their bodies, stomachs hanging out.  You just thought, hard luck mate and carried on.  You had to – or how else would you have coped.”  A shadow shifted across Ron`s face.  “If anyone was wounded, we couldn`t help.  People were screaming for help but you had to leave them for the medics, we just had to keep going forward or we would have copped it too.

“By nightfall of the 6th June, some 175,000 troops had come ashore at a cost of 4900 casualties. The beaches were relatively secure, but the fight was not yet over.

The Hampshire Regiment tentatively fought their way through the laborious terrain of   Normandy countryside through the bocage country, a formidable labyrinth of numerous winding roads and maze of sunken lanes with a density of impenetrable high hedges bounded on both sides that hid the enemy.  Taking more casualties, they fought onto the Eastern Netherlands where Ron was wounded and he returned home to England.  After four years away – his war finally over.

It took many months for the allies to fight their way through the heavily defended Normandy countryside with the loss of many more men.  It took almost another year to reach and defeat Germany during the spring of 1945.

Ron and I on a visit to Falais

Ron and I on a visit to Falais

“Losing the war was never an option.  England is the best country in the world, there was no way we were ever going to give it up to the Germans.  I don`t have nightmares about the war, but it does all come back to me whenever I meet some of my old comrades of my regiment.  I think I am very lucky to have survived.  Many of my friends didn`t.  People often ask me how did you do it?  You did it because you were trained and disciplined. If you were given an order, you didn`t argue, you just did it.”

After the war, Ron went back to his trade has bookbinder at the Printers Coasbys.  After another twenty-eight years he joined Holbrooks printers and five years later in 1975, Ron had saved enough money to become self-employed as a master craftsman.  Many a student visited Ron and was rewarded by a kind and courteous man who bound their theses with the skill of a master of his trade.

Ron stands by the grave of his best friend Tommy who was killed by a sniper in front of him.

Ron stands by the grave of his best friend Tommy who was killed by a sniper in front of him.

  Here was a man who had dedicated his life to books. On the wall of his workshop was a very poignant souvenir plaque that read, “It`s nice to be important, but it`s important to be nice.” Having met Ron, one quickly became aware that this quiet unassuming man had much in his life to be proud.

Sadly, my friend has now passed away.  But the memories stay with me.  The memory of escorting him to Normandy to visit his friend`s grave – Tommy, who was shot by a sniper in front of him, memories of him staying with us, meeting his family and laughing so much he made me cry. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He and thousands like him, travelled hundreds of miles to the shores of Normandy, sixty-nine years ago, to risk and give their lives to a cause that rid our world of nazi tyranny.  Ron never wavered in his beliefs and he never  expected to live through the war.  He went on to not only be honoured for his bravery in the war, but also for his exemplary work in the art of bookbinding.

In Ron`s own words, “It`s a job well done.”

                                                An excerpt from my novel:

But now in the landing craft, the Normandy coast fast approaching, fear took on a resounding truthfulness.  Saliva negligible, blinking eyes refusing the onset of the fast approaching inconceivable terror. Hearts beating against a breathless panic, a bladder refusing to remain intact surging unwelcome warmth upon khaki cloth already sodden from wild seas.  The word fear had not been defined to Jack – his previous definitions of the word were now devoid – depleted – misguided.  Sam cowered, head held low, a German`s bullet maybe a welcome relief from this misery.  The water, a fathom of it, a few inches beneath him, would choke him, eyes bulging, tongue protruding, lungs exploding. The assault crafts of the flotilla dipped and rolled the undulating waves that crashed over the gunwales.  Vomiting was continuous and unrelenting.  Sea spray soaked the young men who, after months of hard training, transporting them from adolescence to manhood now unashamed, desperately required the embrace of their mothers.  The stink of engine oil, the landing craft like matchboxes rolling this way, rolling that way, lifted up, smashed back down again.  Darting eyes, thumping hearts, tears and rosaries held in white knuckles.  A mighty fleet forging onward, lines and lines of ships, destroyers, battleships, landing craft, a magnitude of power carrying youth too young for death, for life, for fear – just babes trying to be men.WORLD WAR TWO SOLDIER

My novel is dedicated to Sergeant Ronald White (Blanco) who mentored me throughout my struggle to `get things right`.  I hope I have done him proud. 

May his memory and countless thousands of others who died in this campaign, live on in my work.