SOLDIERS STILL HAUNTED BY D-DAY 60 YEARS ON; Veterans recall horrors of Normandy.
D-DAY soldiers have spoken movingly of the memories that still haunt them of the fierce battles to liberate France.
Sixty years on, the men from the Royal Ulster Rifles recalled the horrors of the days after landing on the Normandy beaches.
The reluctant heroes, who recalled their experiences for a TV documentary, spoke of the horrors they encountered on the frontline.
Veteran Martin Vance, describing the horrors on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, said: "I can't describe the horrors. Words can't described them, paintings can't. War is grotesque. I could go into lurid details but I could never fully describe it."
Richard Keegan said: "We were all ordinary fellas - some farmers, some unemployed like myself, fellas from down South, Derry, Belfast and all over Northern Ireland. They were all heroes .. all heroes."
The soldiers, some who arrived on the beaches on boats and those who arrived earlier on gliders, vividly recall the incessant shelling and machine-gun fire that bombarded them from the German front.
One remembered one day as they advanced through Cambes forest: "For five hours we were mortared and shelled. Non-stop. People were lying there with legs blown off and everything. We lost a tremendous number of men - 200 wounded or killed.
"It was only afterwards that you looked back and saw your mates lying there that it really went home to you."
The Germans had built a formidable line of defence along the coast of northern France by 1944.
Stationed in the south of England, men from the Royal Ulster Rifles prepared, in the first week of June '44 , to take on Hitler's forces but they could not have foreseen the bloody battlefield that was to be their home for days.
The landings were relatively easy and the first day in the trenches was quiet. As night fell, however, the full might of the German military machine was unleashed.
Bill McConnell confessed: "I was crying. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I was crying, 'I want my mum'. I wasn't the only one."
He proved his courage, however, when he was selected with a small number of men to travel undercover to the city of Caen - which Allies believed to be the gateway to Paris - to find out the strength of the German army.
He said: "We got picked up in a civilian truck by one of the French resistance. When we got there, there was a garrison just outside the fort. There were thousands of them there. We had to hide for half an hour.
"I had never seen a German before and now I was in their midst. If we had been caught that was it."
The RUF battalion would advance to Caen but Cambes Wood had to be secured first.
Bill McConnell remembers the death of his good pal, Bobby Stephenson.
"On the advance, Bobby Stephenson called to me, "See you after". As I turned round, a shell exploded and he was blown to pieces."
Bill McConnell wants his ashes scattered among the war graves in France.
"I belong there. I can still see the faces of people as I knew them before they were killed," he said. "You have to shake your head sometimes to try to forget but you can't. I don't think I ever will."
We Fought On D-Day, BBC1, Wednesday, June 2nd, 10.35pm
FRONTLINE: Veterans recall the bloodbath of frontline action
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|Publication:||Sunday Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||May 23, 2004|
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