Post Memories: D-Day veterans remember the beaches 70 years on
- Credit: Archant
People from across the world are remembering the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings this morning.
The joint naval taskforce was the biggest amphibious assault in military history and helped bring about an Allied victory in the Second World War.
In commemoration of today’s milestone, Barking & Dagenham College students have been working hard on different projects for their courses.
The Dagenham Road centre held a free exhibition on Monday that included floral tributes, handmade 1940s-inspired clothing, visual interpretations of war poetry, models of a Spitfire cockpit and Sword Beach – all put together by students.
The presentation also involved the unveiling of a documentary and audio CD featuring interviews with two local D-Day veterans.
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Ron Wilson, 89, of Hornchurch, served as an able seamen with the Royal Navy, transporting men and tanks across the Channel to Sword Beach on the night of the invasions.
Although he made it through to the end of the war, going on to become a self-taught carpenter, some of those on his craft made up part of the estimated 4,400 Allied deaths that day.
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He said: “We got to what we thought was the beach and lowered the door, but the first vehicle sank straight into the sea.
“I wonder to this day if any of those young men survived.
“Ships and crafts were covering the seas as far as you could see – it was unbelievable. But I do remember seeing the HMS Belfast.
“We were damaged and signalled to her asking what to do, and our orders were ‘find your way home, or die’.”
Ron met his late wife of 53 years, Eileen, a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, aboard the river gunboat HMS Dragonfly just after the war.
“I was always a clever little sod and able to fix things, so I became the ship’s cobbler,” he explained.
“One day Eileen came in to have her shoes repaired and I fell in love with her there and then.”
Fellow veteran Victor MacKenzie, 90, of Epping, joined the army in 1942 aged 18, and served with the seventh Armoured Division, admitting he was “very seasick” that night.
But after reaching Gold Beach, he described a chance meeting with an injured Yank who would later become his brother-in-law.
“A section of Mulberry Harbour [a portable harbour used to unload Allied cargo] was damaged so it was easier to evacuate wounded through the British section,” he explained.
“On one section I saw a row of wounded American soldiers on stretchers, so I tucked a note into one of their pockets that said ‘when you’re better come back and see my mum’.
“That man did just that, and six months later he married my sister, who still lives in America.”
After finishing the war in Berlin, he trained in maths and science and became an engineering lecturer at the College of North West London.
Like many of those who served, he finished the war with a number of medals.
He said: “I regard the medals as more belonging to the men who made the ultimate sacrifice rather than me.
“People talk about comradeship, which is stronger than friendship, because those men would lay down their lives for you and you’d do the same. It’s a very strong bond that lasts for a lifetime.”