No film has come close to what happened on D-Day; Last week,Local Hero marked the approaching 60th anniversary of D-Day by telling the story of Allied troops arriving on the beaches of Normandy. This week,North Wales Normandy veteran Major Basil Heaton tells George Tattum about his experience of the invasion that led to the liberation of Western Europe.
TWO days before D-Day, a young army lieutenant was aboard a landing craft tossed by mountainous seas off Southampton.
The military vessel had set off for Normandy and the top secret documents outlining the invasion plans had been opened.
But the weather closed in,and the boat was ordered to return to port. General Dwight D Eisenhower,Supreme Commander of the troops invading France,had called off the huge operation at the last moment,fearing the weather would cause major disruption.
One of the fresh-faced young servicemen riding out the storm on the landing craft was Basil Heaton, of Rhewl,Mold,a lieutenant in the 86th (HertfordshireYeomanry) Field Regiment.
``I admire him for that decision,it was a brave thing to do,' saidMajor Heaton, who continued his army career after the war,gaining promotion from his wartime rank of lieutenant.
``When the big day arrived we thought it was just another exercise,but we had been very well trained and were ready for battle.''
The Major and his regimental colleagues embarked on the landing craft on June 3,1944,after assembling a month earlier near Romsey in the New Forest. They sailed for France the following morning,only to run into atrocious weather in the Solent, where the mountainous swell made even hardened sailors reach for the vomit bags. Then Eisenhower pulled the plug on the invasion, delaying the start by 24 hours.
After the false alarm, theMajor's craft and many others taking part in the huge operation, set sail again for France on June 5.
This time D-Day was for real the seaborne invasion was finally underway. The Major's craft landed on Gold Beach half an hour before high tide.
By now it was 8.10amon June 6, the start of a day now etched in the pages of history.
``I was first off the landing craft in a Bren gun carrier. We beached only six feet from the shore, soI had a dry landing. There were lots of people and vehicles moving up and down the beach.
``Some small craft were capsized in an angry sea,and an armoured vehicle was on fire. There was fire and smoke coming from La Riviere and several Germans in uniform watched from the high water mark.
``They had had enough. We removed the waterproofing from the vehicles and started moving towards the beach exit and inland. There was sniping and machine gun fire from the beach defences and one or two 75 mm guns were enfilading us.
``I was very relieved when the Beach Master called us forward to the exit. But a call for fire from our Forward Observation Officer to repel a local counter attack came as we were nose to tail on this narrow beach exit.
``We stopped and fired over each other's heads with success,but the Beach Master was not amused and gave us a roasting through his megaphone. By nightfall the beachhead was won,and we were down to our last shells. We had suffered quite a few casualties.
``We were very, very tired,and thrilled to see the reserve brigade passing through us.''
He said the priority was to get off the beach and establish a bridgehead to drive the Germans back, so that their firepower could not reach the beach to inflict heavy casualties or impede the progress of reinforcements.
Although the Major was in the thick of the action,he says he had no trouble keeping calm.
``There was simply no time for emotion -our training had been first class and we simply put it into practice. We had complete confidence in our officers.''
Looking back at the theatre of war, theMajor said it now seemed unreal.
``I have watched films based on the action,but none come anywhere near depicting what actually happened,''he said.``I lost close colleagues,but everyone was so busy we simply didn't have time to worry. It was a job that had to be done. I had after all joined the army to be shot at.''
Major Basil Heaton (left) has vivid memories of his part in the historic D-Day landings (below)
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|Publication:||Daily Post (Liverpool, England)|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2004|
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