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D Day Tribute

D Day Tribute

We were very humbled to read local Guildford resident Ron McGill’s account of his 2009 trip to Juno Beach to mark the 65th anniversary of D Day.  Ron’s touching tribute of placing a bottle of Hogs Back beer on the beach was in honour of a close friend, who landed there on D Day.

Here is Ron’s account…..

We May Not Come Back … D-Day By Ron McGill

With the approach this year of the anniversary of the famous D-Day landings, there will be many mentions in the media of the historic event that truly began to end the war in the favour of the Allied Forces that brought freedom to the whole of Europe.

I was just 13 years in 1944 and can remember the hordes of aircraft passing over our school at Roehampton in Southwest London.  There was also a continuous stream of military vehicles passing on the nearby main road to the South of England, and many of them were crowded with our fighting men, all waving and cheering. (We found out later these were the reinforcement troops to back up the initial landings and we could only wave back and wish them well.)

Everything that day was heading south to France and as the ‘Invasion’ news was announced, our teacher, Miss Heavens, called us all to be quiet and just pray for a few moments for our men about to go into action, which we did.

In my later life, I did meet up with many men who were survivors of those brave youngsters who, all those years ago, fought so valiantly for the precious freedom we enjoy today. Additionally, I have visited the historic beaches several times, some in company with those who actually landed there.  No wonder Eisenhower called it a ‘Crusade to free Europe’, which it was.

In later life also, I discussed D-Day with a close friend of mine, Peter Glanville, and we used to play golf every Sunday at our Puttenham Club near Guildford.  Peter has passed away quite recently but he once showed me his diary, and we had many, many discussions about that event.  He always called D-Day as ‘his miracle survival time’.

Peter had joined the Royal Navy in1940 and he subsequently volunteered for ‘Combined Operations’ in 1943 where he began training as a yeoman/signaller and stationed at Plymouth. He was then posted to a new type of vessel, an ‘LCT’ which was a landing craft tank number LCT 2428 and stationed at the Hamble Rover in Hampshire

Shortly before D-Day, his Commander called him into his office and said to him,” Glanville, you are the best signaller in our group, and I want you with me.”  This was a pleasant surprise to Peter until he heard those chilling words, ‘We may not be coming back!”  the Commander went on to explain that he was on the first LCT to land on Juno Beach and that his craft was in the very first flotilla to near the beach, Peter immediately understood his chilling words!

Quoting from Peter’s diary, ‘We weighted anchor at 0600 on the 5th of June 1944 and sailed down to the Solent, where the nearby crat began to form into ‘cruising order’.  The sight was quite wonderful to behold, truly thousands of ships of all shapes and sizes, packed with tanks, guns and men, setting off for the journey across the English Channel to invade the fortress known as France!

We had all been briefed some 24 hours earlier so we knew what we were sailing into, all wondering if we would ever see the shore of our homeland again, and/or loved ones.  It was rough going with a heavy swell, but not too bad in our LCT which was one of the larger landing craft, which made good progress.

Hit by a Mine

At 0500 hours on the 6th June we were just a few miles off our objective of Juno Beach, and then we all formed into ‘Battle Lines’ and headed for the coast at full steam ahead.! The beach area was a mass of obstacles and mines, one type was a huge steel gate arrangement on rollers which allowed a craft to get almost over it before sticking and stopping as the mines began to blow up the unfortunate craft and those hit suffered damage mostly to their ballast and would gradually sink.

Our LCT’s target was just to the right of the village of Courselles, which we had been warned would be heavily defended.  We called to the soldiers that we were near the beach and told them to stand by to jump out, they quickly forgot how sea-sick they were and made ready for the assault.  Our craft led the line of various types with reinforcement craft following in our wake, which must have been a daunting sight for the German gunners crouching in their defences for they had been pounded by the barrage of shells from the warships close by.

Our LCT was hit by an exploding mine exactly as we reached the each and lowered our ramp. Luckily, we had a shallow beach and grounded well for the soldiers to leap out and make the 100-yard dash for the shelter of the sea wall.  These men were soldiers of our ‘Kent’ regiment and Canadians from the ‘Royal Winnipeg Rifles’, and truly were the bravest of the brave.  A group of 20 men made it to the sea wall and began lobbing grenades into the giant ‘pillbox’ which was still firing at our landing craft, soe did get their grenades into the apertures and, after 10 minutes, the pillbox was silenced.

Back on our LCT, the mine had blown a large hole in the side, but nobody was hurt, and we managed to get the cargo of bulldozers, Bren-carriers and Jeeps off safely.  The Naval barrage continued to give good covering fire and we also had a few landing craft fitted with 4” guns which managed to deal with the enemy pillboxes on the coast.

With our troops gone it was time to back out of this hell with continuous shelling and machine gun fire hitting the stranded  craft.  Our poor old LCT 2428 made a gallant effort to stay afloat as we cleared the beach, but we all realised she was doomed and it was only a matter of time how long she would stay up and floating, which was not very long. It was my job to keep flashing ‘Help’ as other craft passed us heading for the beach, but none could stop, one craft flashed back, ‘Sorry mate, cannot stop, have a date with Hitler!’

Our LCT, now a bit of a hulk, began to slowly turn over and very shortly our crew of 6 were all in the water and I was thinking that it was a long way to any shore! We were so pleased to see another boat as that dear old Tug whose crew had us wrapped up and with hot drinks in no time. A few more hours and we were back in dear old Portsmouth.  We had been the first ‘in’ and we were the first ‘back’, so there were a lot of questions about what it was like, how are we doing etc. the first survivors to get back. We managed to get a good night’s sleep, fresh uniforms and then, surprise, surprise, we were all briefed that we would be taking another landing craft back with reinforcements the next day, which we did, but landed them safely and although still under sporadic shelling, we returned safely to Portsmouth.

This completes Peter’s diary extracts of D-Day what he called ‘his miracle time’, but his landing craft duties were not over.  Later in the war he was involved with the Allied Landings on Walcheren Island in Holland, which was another grisly affair, but somehow Peter survived to make to ‘Demob’ when the war ended in 1945.

Following Peter’s return to civilian life he was appointed as the sub-postmaster that shared the premises of the Pilgrims Bookshop at the High Street in Guilford, where he and his wife, Chris an ex WAAF, had a long and worthwhile career, running the Post Office section of the shop.

They set up home in Godalming, had three children and finally moved to Hindhead when they retired.  They both took up golf, joining my club at Puttenham and reached a good standard of play.  Chris went on to be elected as the Ladies captain in the 1980’s.  I played regularly with Peter, and I was always fascinated by his tales of the madness of D-Day, as he put it.

Fate now took a hand and tragedy struck the family one Sunday evening when Peter slipped coming down his stairs and fell heavily.  He was unable to move and when the medics came in they immediately asked for a helicopter to take Peter directly to Stoke Mandeville Hospital.  Here he was assessed and informed his back was broken and it was life in a wheelchair from now on, news that he took with the utmost fortitude and swore he would battle on.

When the news of the accident reached the club members there was an immediate ‘whip round’ and within three hours we raised £5000 for the immediate needs of the family.  My good friend Fred Whybrew and myself set off for the hospital. We found him in his ward, laying prone but doing lifting exercises to strengthen his arm muscles, Fred and I just marvelled at his fortitude.

This was the only time I saw his composure weakening, I said to Fred, “Just wave and we go,” for he began to weep at his friend’s gesture of help.  Peter was finally discharged from Stoke Mandeville after 8 months treatment, and began his new life in a wheelchair, he converted to a ‘social’ member at our club.  Then he showed an interest in the work of my Art Class, which he joined and began to learn and produce some good work in oil painting.

One day he said to me, “I feel I should one day go back to Juno Beach to remember my lost friends.” Another friend of ours, Fred Wordsworth, immediately said we will take you next year, which was 2009, and the 65th anniversary of the D-Day operation.  So, it became real, Fred and myself booked all three of us plus wheelchair, onto a civil service coachload of veterans and relatives going back in June 2009.  We would be based at Rouen but able to see all the places that Peter had in mind.

Sadly, fate struck again, and Peter passed away shortly after in his sleep, a merciful end to a very brave man.  Fred and myself said that we would still go as if Peter was with us, which in spirit we felt he was.

On the coach going over The Channel, I spoke with the driver and asked for half a day at Juno Beach and explained why.  He immediately advised the other passengers and they all agreed that they would come with is.  So, there we were, on our second day, getting off the coach and walking to the sandy beach of Juno, passing the existing piles of rubble that had been German Pillboxes still there!

There were huts there, and one was flying the Maple Leaf Canadian Flag.  An officer came out as we approached, learned about our plans, asked to join us and we all trooped to the middle of the beach, exactly opposite the position of the ruined pillboxes that had wrecked Peter’s LCT on that fateful morning. Fred and myself made a pile of sand and placed a Union Jack flag on the top plus a bottle Peter’s favourite tipple, a bottle of our local Hogs Back Brewery Ale, at the bottom.  All our group stood silently and prayed for a few moments in memory of those brave men who had made that remarkable dash for the sea wall, and of course our dear Peter.  The officer saluted and we made our way back to the coach.  He told us on the walk back he was representing Canada for the returning crowds of veterans and the proudly said, "this group made the deepest penetration behind enemy line, two miles on D-Day itself!”

There were crowds everywhere that week, plus masses of flags and bunting, we also had Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip touring the British and Commonwealth graves near Bayeux.  Our coach driver thought we would be wise to go in the other direction, and we drove to the American Cemetery that lies just behind Omaha Beach.

None of us were prepared for the absolute sea of small white crosses, set in beautiful gardens.  Here it really struck home what the American Nation and lost in the fight to bring freedom to France and ultimately, the whole of Europe.

It was a humbling trip home to England for us all, but an event that Fred and myself never, ever forgot.

Ron McGill

This account is reproduced by kind permission of Ron himself and The FLGCA Magazine.

We were very moved by the account and thought it fitting to offer Ron a little something for sharing it.  But with his customary generosity and kindness, Ron has donated our two Hogs Back Brewery Tour vouchers and a case of Tongham TEA [Traditional English Ale] as a raffle prize for a forthcoming Cancer Research UK charity fund-raiser. 

Editor of The FLGCA magazine, Sheila, writes:

The event will be a Vintage Tea in the front garden of Sheila and Bob’s house at Shepherds Well Chalk Road, Ifold, RH14 0UE on Saturday September 7th 10.30am -4pm .  Everyone welcome!  The event is for Cancer Research UK and the raffle prize will certainly be a lovely prize to win. Thank you, Ron. He is a very a very special person.

So be sure to pop along if you can!

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