4:01pm Tuesday 10th June 2014
ONE of the last of a brave group, D-Day veteran Peter Davies, from St Weonards, made the trip to Normandy last weekend to remember those who fell on the famed French beaches 70 years ago.
With fewer of his brothers in arms able to make the pilgrimage year on year – Mr Davies is the last living member of his squadron – he says he is “one of the lucky ones”.
A main gunner for the 1st East Riding Tank Regiment, he was dropped a quarter-mile off Sword Beach, his unit tasked with knocking out German gun positions hailing fire down on Allied infantry as they stepped off the landing boats.
“It was the greatest invasion the world has ever seen,” said Mr Davies, 91.
In the early hours of D-Day, quiet fell on his boat.
The landing vessel was held offshore for around 45 minutes while a gunship finished off the long-range cannons unloading in its direction from Le Havre.
“It was about five in the morning when I went up on deck,” he said.
“I looked overboard; I had never seen so many ships in my life. I didn’t know there were that many ships in the world.
“It was a sense of awe or wonder. I never thought about being afraid.”
The night before, a storm kept the boats in the harbour, delaying the invasion by around 24 hours.
The men were held on the ships.
“It was a tremendous storm,” said Mr Davies.
“I remember my gunner lying on the floor saying ‘It’s wrong to send men into this. I’m going to die.’
“Everybody has their own thoughts.
“You obviously think you are going to survive. But so does the guy next to you. And everyone else. But not everyone did.”
Two years preparation, and 18 months training from Norfolk to Scotland’s north-facing beaches, would come down to taking a two-mile stretch of sand ahead of them.
When the time came, the tanks were dropped in six feet of water; the first one drowned.
“You are trained to go regardless,” said Mr Davies.
“Our orders were to get to the green belt – the small coastal villages where our targets were positioned – to save the infantry from getting mauled.”
On the front with him, somewhere, were his brothers Ken and Norris.
As a 17-year-old in Hereford, it was watching his two older brothers leave to serve their country that pushed Mr Davies into joining up, initially with the RAF.
He said: “I never saw them in wartime.
“But when they signed up, I knew if they were going, I was going to go too.”
Following the war, he left the army in 1946 before working as the area manager in a local call office.
But he still returns to the beaches each year to mark the triumphs and sacrifices of those who he served alongside.
“It brings back memories,” he said.
“I can’t be there without thinking about the friends, the laughs, the sadness. There’s always mixed emotion.”
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