Seven Normandy veterans from the York area are preparing to return to the landing beaches to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

The 'magnificent seven' looked back to 1944 and told Mike Laycock of their individual experiences on D-Day and its aftermath during the crucial Normandy campaign of the Second World War...

York Press: Ken Smith, 89, of Wheldrake
Ken Smith, 89, of Wheldrake:

"As we crossed over to the beaches of France on a landing craft, we had been told to expect heavy machine gun fire and 40 per cent causalities. The machine gun fire wasn’t as bad as we’d thought, but the beach was alive with shells and we had to pick our way out carefully because of the thousands of mines.

"Another young man went down but we weren’t allowed to stop. I heard a voice from behind saying "Keep going," and I never found out what happened to him. It was the first time I had seen death - and violent death and destruction."

Ken Cooke, 88, of Newland Park Drive, York:

“We got off the main ship and onto the landing craft and from then on there was just one tremendous noise. Battle ships were bombarding the beaches and we were under machine gun attack. About six or seven miles from the French coast, we had to climb down a scramble net onto a landing craft. It was on these craft that many people were seasick, although I was a good sailor and wasn’t. Some of the other landing craft were struck by shells.

"As we went in the water, some were in above their heads and drowned, although I was just up to my ankles. We landed on Gold Beach at about a quarter to eight in the morning. We were told to get off it as quickly as possible."

Bert Barritt, 89, of Acomb:

“I was with the Second Battalion, the East Yorkshire Regiment, which landed on Sword Beach D-day. Three weeks beforehand they took 50 men and said we were immediate reinforcements, so I came in at half past ten instead of half past seven, and I walked off the beach.

"They had cleared the resistance in three hours. There was no fire at all - there was plenty of noise because all the ships were firing but nothing coming after us. Three weeks later I was wounded in my hand with shrapnel and was out for four months."

George Meredith, 89, of Scarborough:

"I landed the day after D-Day. It was not very good. I had a Ford lorry and had 3,000 gallons of petrol with me. We managed to drive off the beach because I was in a lorry. The resistance was not so bad but I did see some. I could see machine gun fire from up above on the cliffs, but I didn't get hit. I was concentrating on driving in the convoy."

Gordon Collinson, 90, of Heworth:

"I landed on Gold Beach five or six days after D-Day. I was on a tank landing craft. The worst part was that they didn't tell us how deep the sea would be when we came down the landing ramp. It was up to my neck! I was carrying a Bren gun and a colleague was carrying the ammunition. I managed to wade to the shore."

Douglas Haw, 95, of Scarborough:

"I was a driver in the RASC. I went over about a week after D-day. We were all at White City Stadium for about a week before we went, we weren't allowed to telephone anyone. It was a smooth crossing - it was all quiet really, though we had to be on the look out for parachute mines."

Roy Rowbotham, 93, of Bishopthorpe:

“It was raining cats and dogs when our truck went down the ramp of a landing barge on Sword Beach. There was chaos on the beach. Everything had been well organised beforehand but then nothing went as planned.”

York Press: Normandy Veteran Douglas Haw's copy pics. (6667188)
Douglas Haw was a driver in the RASC. He went over to Normandy about a week after D-Day, after spending a week at White City Stadium in London.