I’ll never forget the time, the time I went back to Arnhem and I saw those graves there, 18 years of age, one 17, 19, 20.
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When we got to Normandy, we had to sit there for quite a while before we could find a place to get off and land. And the last thing we heard from the captain there was, well, fellows, you’re on your own from here on in. So they dropped this duck [DUKW: amphibious truck] into the water and we left with those words in our ears.
We were very fortunate. Gold Beach wasn’t as difficult as the other beach near, where the Americans went in. We made a landing with very, very few casualties. See, our job with the ducks was to get supplies to the front line and that wasn’t easy to begin with because there were snipers all over the place. We lost 15 men by sniper; and we hunted high and low for that sniper in a building that was close by. And then finally, we looked around the trees and we saw this, she was about 18 year old girl sitting in the tree with an automatic rifle, just picking off the men as they passed by.
We used to go up the side of a wheat field because the wheat, the growth was very high there; and it gave us at least 50 percent of our vehicle would be covered by that and wouldn’t be seen at a distance. But you’d get the bullets coming and hitting your packing cases, behind your head, while you’re traveling, but you didn’t take much notice of that, you just put your foot down and kept going.
When we got to the front line, there were always men there to unload for us, because four tonnes is quite a lot to unload. And there were just two of you. We had to have two drivers because we worked night and day. And so I had Taffy, a Welshman with me and he had a beautiful tenor voice; and he used to sing all the way, no matter what was falling, shells or bullets, he would be singing.
What we were called to do, finally, was to get as many airborne back across the River Rhine. The River Rhine was running through there, that’s a fast river. As many airborne we could get back over that River Rhine as possible. Well, as soon as we got our ducks into the water, the enemy would fire on them and sink them. So that wasn’t much good. On our ducks, we always had had a couple of lifebelts and a couple of lifejackets, so we took all of those and we collected about 200 from our company. We eventually had brought in for us some collapsible dinghies; and so we pushed those across the river. Those that could swim, I couldn’t swim, so I didn’t go. But a friend of mine did. They pushed all of those over there and we got 200 men back that way, because we put a rope across the river from our side to the other side where the enemy were. And the people who hadn’t been marched away as prisoners were the only people that were available to come back. So we saved 200 of them anyway, but that’s the best we could do with what we had.
Well, we had trained in Middelkerke, in Belgium. We had trained for landing on the Japanese mainland. That was our next job. And then, of course, they dropped the atomic bombs and we weren’t required there. So what we did then was to become the occupational forces in Egypt. I didn’t have a leave from the theatre of war, so I was allowed to ask for a leave. It was very, very difficult for me to handle Civvy Street again. Very, very difficult. But I got out of it finally. And then I came into the ministry after that.
One day my two daughters said to me, dad, we don’t know what you did during the war, we don’t know where you went; we want to know. And so June and I were going on a tour. June said to them, well, if you want to know where we’re going, just meet us in Amsterdam and we’ll take you there. In Amsterdam, our two girls joined us and then we went from Normandy right up into Germany. And I tried to explain as I went along. And I’ll never forget the time, the time I went back to Arnhem and I saw those graves there, 18 years of age, one 17, 19, 20. It was our job to get them back over the Rhine. And we couldn’t do it, except those 200. And I stood there and I cried like a little baby. It stays with you. But we have to go on, you know, we have to do what we can to normalize things. But I enjoyed my ministry immensely. And, you know, my services helped me to give better ministry.