Express & Star

'We were bait to draw the fire of big German guns': Local heroes' terrifying D-Day memories

Most of the men who fought on D-Day, June 6, 1944, have passed away.

Harry Anderson at Gold beach in 2004

We have collected many memories of veterans over the years. Over the next week we will retell their stories, told first-hand to Peter Rhodes by some of the 100,000-strong band of brothers who stormed the beaches or dropped from the squally skies on a single day in June to seize a foothold in occupied France and begin the liberation of a continent.

D-Day, June 6, 5.30am – the Naval Bombardment.

As the paras and glider troops held their hard-won positions inland, thousands of British and American naval guns opened fire on the beaches.

No-one who witnessed that earth-shattering bombardment will ever forget it. Some of the battleships were firing 16-inch shells almost as long as a car and so big that they could clearly been seen, and felt, as they went past. Inland, as one massive shell roared over, Major John Howard’s signaller turned to his officer and said: 'Blimey, sir, they’re firing Jeeps.'

Bill Sharples, of Pattingham on the Shropshire-Staffordshire border, was a 19-year-old signaller on the minesweeper HMS Llandudno. The ship was 'almost blown out of the water' when the nearby HMS Ramilies and Ajax opened fire. Later he and his shipmates had the grim task of recovering identity tags from the floating bodies of soldiers killed in the attack.

Harry Anderson in 2004 on a visit back to Normandy

Harry Anderson of Chapel Ash, Wolverhampton, was a lance-corporal and fitter, aged twenty-four, with the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards. He recalled the incredible concussion of the bombardment.

"We were by HMS Warspite and every salvo she fired lifted our landing craft up, almost out of the water."

Jack Hill, of Quarry Bank, was a stoker-mechanic on a minesweeper off Gold Beach.

Dawn broke as they approached the French coast: