OUR D-DAY: I DUG MYSELF INTO THE SAND TO SURVIVE.
RANK: Leading Stoker
REGT: HMS Byms, Royal Navy
I'D been working in the relative safety of a British minesweeper's engine room when I was transferred to a landing craft. They needed a hand because they were under heavy enemy fire. I wasonly17years old at the time. One day I'd been a welder in Birmingham, the next I was in a landing vessel hit by shells and I was washed up on to Omaha Beach, which turned out to be the bloodiest of them all.
I was stranded for eight hours while the American forces battled for control and I had to dig myself into the sand to avoid being killed. But these are things I put to the back of my mind.
What I remember is the carnage, the bodies, people crying for help -it's just a haze. There was so much noise, so many things flying about. You only had time to think for yourself.
You just had to get under the sea wall. I was told to dig myself a hole, get myself under the sand and stay there -and that's exactly what I did.
None of us knewwhat to expect really. We'd set off from Portland alongside American troops on June 5, heading for a rendezvous point known as Piccadilly Circus on the Isle of Wight.
Our ship, HMS Byms, went ahead to Omaha to clear the way of mines before returning to collect the American landing craft. The others covered Utah, Sword, Gold and Juno, and swept the way clear for them to pass.
When we'd finished the sweep weturned round and came back to pick up the American convoys. We were escorting them to the beachheads -but one of the landing craft we were escorting got in trouble.
Three of us were put on board to help them out. The sea was too rough to put us back on the minesweeper so I ended up staying on the American landing craft. We had to take it right up to the beach.
We got hit twice on the way in and lost a lot of troops on board. An 88mm shell hitting a landing craft is quite something. They weigh about 14st and are full of explosives.
Thingshappened so fast, it wasa job to feel anything at the time. I didn't feel frightened. I just felt more concerned because the shells hit the bow of the ship first andonecame in right into the centre where the troops were.
Whenwe did reach the beach another shell hit the engine roomand I was out of it. We were thrown out by the impact of the shell and that was that.
I was stuck on the beach for about eight hours. There were so many landing craft damaged that it was a job getting the other landing craft in behind them.
The Americans held back reinforcements because they thought that they'd lost the beachhead. It was in the balance for nearly eight hours.
I don't know how I avoided getting shot, but I just got through it. Luck was on my side. Three of us started out but only two of us came back.
I was finally picked up by another landing craft, transferred to the American HQ aboard US Ancon, and then back to my minesweeper.
When I got picked up by another landing craft I was relieved, I can certainly tell you. I was more than pleased to see my friends and they were pleased to see me as well.
It was all a far cry from the days when I was working as a welder in Birmingham when I decided to join up.
It was 1943 and I was only 17 at the time. I pretended to be a year older than I really was because I was too young -but I was so keen to join the Navy.
I was sent to Malvern to complete my basic training on board HMS Duke where I was taught rifle drill and marching. They selected me to work as a leading stoker for the Royal Navy Patrol service, looking for mines on the seabed. My role was to keep the engines running in the minesweepers operating off the coast of Dover, Portland and Plymouth. The ironic thing is that I survived Omaha Beach but I was nearly killed when I went back to my day-job. When we got to Boulogne on October 5, 1944, we'd seen the Germans dropping mines in a pattern of six.
We found five but I'm afraid the sixth one found us. I was in the engine room, and the next thing I knew I was in the water.
There were only four of us out of 31 who survived.
The man up above had his eye on us. I should have been dead and gone right then but I was picked up later in the night.
YOUNG HERO: Clifford Brown; SURVIVOR: Clifford Brown was stuck on Omaha Beach
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|Publication:||Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)|
|Date:||Jun 6, 2004|
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