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'And above al FIGHT!'.

Byline: By Tony Pogson

Christopher Mason, of Broadway, Worcestershire, has two uncles to be proud of.

One is the famous film star James Mason, the other is James's brother Colin, one of the heroes of D-Day.

Christopher himself is the son of another brother, Rex, who is now 98.

The Mason family, of course, come from Huddersfield - the family home was in Croft House Lane at Marsh.

The first Examiner account of Colin's D-Day adventures - when he commanded a tank landing craft - was published not long after D-Day and was short and to the point.

Colin said: "We made a successful trip on D-Day and were among the first landing craft to touch down on the Normandy beaches.

"It was pretty hot in our section and snipers were busy, but we escaped without a scratch. On our second trip all went well until we were nearing the French coast when an explosion occurred.

"An escorting MTB (motor torpedo boat) came to our assistance and towed us for 20 minutes until the tow broke. This eased matters and we could make temporary repairs. Then we turned round, and with our bows well down, proceeded on our way. Since our ramp was damaged we had to discharge our cargo into a merchant ship. I was keen to get my craft back again."

The Examiner added: "Lieutenant Mason was in a landing craft which hit a mine at Salerno, and the practical lessons of damage control he learned then helped to save his craft this time."

Says Christopher: "With the benefit of hindsight and the original log and papers which my uncle kept until he died in December 1987, the report can be said to have been somewhat incomplete.

"It wasn't just that he was quite often a man of quiet understatement but also that he would, of course, have been in serious trouble had he disclosed how many men had been killed in his ship and that his ship was by then, at best, just a source of spare parts."

Christopher says: "To my knowledge, none of the crew of my uncle's ship, LCT 608 in the 41st LCT Flotilla, ever later had any special claim to fame or wrote an autobiography, but not far away from my uncle at that moment, in the same Force S Flotilla, was someone who later became a good friend of mine, the late Commander Rupert Curtis DSC RNVR, and he was carrying Lord Lovat with his famous commandos in a small LCI (a landing craft that carried 85 men).

"The crew of my uncle's LCT had been hard at it for many days. D-Day was on a Tuesday and they had completed loading on the previous Saturday, June 3.

"Loading the soldiers or at least loading their equipment had not been easy. `Had considerable difficulty in embarking angle dozer and trailer' is noted by uncle in his log at 16.15 that day - the thought of unloading the same dozer on the beaches under fire cannot have been very comforting.

"They had expected to set off for Normandy on Sunday the fourth but at 10.15 a signal was received cancelling sailing for 24 hours.

At 06.30 the following day, Monday the fifth, the log reads `Call the hands' - this ended the last proper rest they were to have for several days. At 11.00 hours the long-awaited signal to sail was received. The wording was simply `Good luck: drive on'! Subsequent entries logged for Monday are bracketed as `Operation Neptune'."

The log pages for June 6, 1944 are headed "English Channel", with the weather recorded as "overcast until mid-day when sunny" and the events recorded in "matter of fact" style, including "09.15 M.L.(motor launch) blew up. Picked up survivors and transferred them to US launch. Lost dinghy" and 00.20 Dallied (leader presumed lost) at `E.A.3' Buoy."

In fact, LCT 608 passed the Nab Tower, nearly home, at 01.55 next morning.

Christopher notes the pressures can be seen from a leaflet from Rear Admiral A G Talbot which urges Force S to look after the Thirds British Infantry Division and finishes:

"And above all FIGHT;

FIGHT to help the Army;

FIGHT to help yourselves;

FIGHT to save the ship;

FIGHT to the very end."

The briefing documents assumed a greater destruction of coastal landmarks - photographed the previous month in May - than actually happened and stressed: "If you cannot see them it does not necessarily follow that you are in the wrong place."

For Lt Colin Mason RNVR it was the second day after D-Day that was to produce the most incident.

Christopher takes up the story. "By early morning of D+1, June 7, my uncle had returned to Portsmouth.

"Here he loaded soldiers of the RAF Regiment and their anti-aircraft guns, which took just over an hour. Despite his speedy loading and being ready to return to Normandy so early on the seventh, they had to wait for a further eight hours before they could set off with two other LCTs (979 and 1018) and eventually join the rest of a new convoy at 20.37 hours that evening.

"In spite of the initial success of the invasion, Le Havre, a principal German E-boat base, was still in enemy hands at that time and it was from there that the cause of the `explosion' mentioned in the Examiner came."

Extracts from Lt Mason's log read: "03.30 Bright flares and tracer periodically a few miles on port bow. Both guns closed up.

"04.15 A few shot landed on port bow. `Starboard Ten' 04.16 hit by torpedo in bow. LCT 981 came alongside and embarked all RAF passengers. Craft down badly forward. Three soldiers killed, about six wounded. Steering fouled by mooring wire. Electric gear not working. carried out damage control. 981 lay off after taking on troops.

"06.05 proceeded astern towed by 981. Steering clear. 06.50 tow parted. Proceeded full ahead together."

After unloading the cargo, they were ordered to beach for the night. On reaching home the ship was cannibalised for spare parts and Uncle Colin was given command of LCT 7068 which supplied the Americans on Utah beach.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:May 6, 2004
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