THE main thing Joseph Wood remembers about D-Day is the noise. The noise, and the fear.

The 19-year-old was serving aboard a Royal Navy minesweeper clearing German mines from the approaches to Utah Beach so American forces could land.

Afterwards, he was told about the skies black with aircraft, and about the ranks of battleships far out to sea belching their missiles towards the beach.

But as a young engine room artificer, he saw none of that.

He was buried deep in the bowels of his little ship, which had a crew of just 34.

York Press: Noise and fear: the D-Day landingsNoise and fear: the D-Day landings (Image: PA/ library)

But what he and his engine room shipmates couldn’t see, they could certainly hear.

“We could hear it all, above the noise of the engine,” the 99-year-old said. “The battleships opened up, and we wondered ‘what the hell is going on?’”

He and his ship had already served six months on Atlantic convoy duty before D-Day.

So he was familiar with the fear and sense of claustrophobia that came with being below decks during an engagement.

Serving in the engine room of a minesweeper cleared for action stations was, he admits quite frankly, terrifying.

“I was right scared,” he said. “I was only 19. The frightening thing about being in the engine room was, you were battened down.

“The only way out was up a steel ladder to a watertight hatch. It was like a tomb. You could only hope that if anything went wrong, there would be somebody to open the hatch for you from the top.”

The irony was that, at the time of the Normandy landings, he and his colleagues in that engine room didn’t even realise they were taking part in what was to be the turning point of the war.

As part of a flotilla of Royal Navy minesweepers attached to US command, they’d been involved in a few ‘rehearsals’ - including the Slapton Sands fiasco in April 1944, in which an Allied convoy positioning itself for a landing on a Devon beach was attacked by Nazi E-boats. At least 749 US servicemen were killed.

York Press: Joseph wood, 99, with some of his medals - including the Atlantic Star and the French Legion D'HonneurJoseph wood, 99, with some of his medals - including the Atlantic Star and the French Legion D'Honneur (Image: Stephen Lewis)

“It was one of the biggest cock-ups in naval history,” said Joseph, who now lives in a care home in Fulford.

So for all they knew, as they set out that June 6, 1944, it could just have been another rehearsal. “We didn’t know it was D-Day,” he said. Not, at least, until those battleships opened up.

The landings seemed to go on for days and days and days, Joseph says, as his minesweeper continued to patrol the area around the Normandy beaches, to protect allied shipping from U-boats.

Eventually, the landings over, he returned to Lowestoft in Suffolk, where he’d done his naval training – and, after 14 days of leave, was shipped out to the Far East on a converted cruise ship.

There, he was supposed to join a minesweeper patrolling the Malaysian coast – but because of a mix-up, found himself in the huge naval port of Trincomalee, in what is now Sri Lanka, instead.

York Press: Joseph Wood as a young manJoseph Wood as a young man (Image: Joseph Wood)

“Where have you been?”, he was asked, when he attempted to report for duty. “You’re supposed to be on a minesweeper.”

It was lucky that he wasn’t. He and a colleague later learned that two minesweepers had been sunk by Japanese kamikaze pilots off the Malaysian coast. “I thought ‘crikey, that could have been us!’” he said.

Looking back now, he is proud of the part he and his shipmates played in the success of the D-Day landings.

Rear Admiral Alan Kirk, the naval commander of the western task force on D-Day, once said that minesweepers were the ‘keystone’ that enabled the Normandy landings to go ahead. They cleared away the German mine barriers so that troops and materiel could land.

“D-Day could never have happened without the minesweepers,” Joseph said.

I'd hate to be bringing children into the world today

Joseph Wood admits that – like so many who took part in the war – he’s never really spoken in public about his wartime experiences before.

Born in Hull in 1925, as a teenager he endured three nights of bombing during the Hull blitz in 1941.

After being called up at 18 and assigned to a minesweeper, he spent six months on the Atlantic convoy, protecting shipping that was vital to the Allied war effort.

His convoy service earned him the Atlantic Star: one of many medals – including the French Legion D-honneur – that he still holds with pride.

After the Normandy landings, and his year spent in Ceylon, he eventually made it home to Hull in late spring 1946, his war service over.

He trained as a bricklayer, and spent many years as head of construction at the College of Arts and Technology on York’s Tadcaster Road.

He married twice - his first wife, Sheila, with whom he has a son, died of breast cancer in 1976; he was married to his second wife, Anne, for 47 years – and in all that time he never really spoke much about his wartime experience.

York Press: Joseph Wood with his second wife AnneJoseph Wood with his second wife Anne (Image: Joseph Wood)

But he agrees that it is important that today’s generation should not forget what happened. “And we should never forget the holocaust,” he said.

Despite everything he went through as a young man, he admits that he wouldn’t want to bring a child up in today’s world.

“After the war we started to lead a proper life,” he said. “There was full employment, and you could buy a house and stay in it.

“But I would hate to be bringing children into the world today. Everything is so uncertain. I just feel that it would be hard times.”