"A bit of shrapnel must have come through and it cut the telephone right in half... That was a bit of a scare."
I always thought, “Well, before I get home, I got to go into action.” And that was my thoughts at the time, you know. And, but, managed to come through and survive – we had two people killed in Sicily on the beach [in 1943]. But, other than that – they got killed by anti-personnel mine. And, so and then we went on, after that I landed in the toe of Sicily in a place called Avola, and then after a few weeks we went up to – Augusta. There was a naval barracks there, Italian naval barracks we took over, and we were there for quite a few weeks.
I was a signalman and, I mean, I got trained in the use of an Aldis lamp, as they call it, which you held in your hand and it was flashlight-signalling light, you know. That was my job. Also, with Semaphore flags which, really speaking, weren’t used very much. So that’s what I was trained for and that didn’t hurt. When we landed on the beach, we used to have to set up a little signal station where the beachmaster, who was usually a lieutenant-commander in the navy, was in charge of the beach, and, you know, the movement and things on the beach, and he had a crew as well, in case anything got bogged down, they’d dig them out and get them moving and that sort of thing. But he was in charge of us, and he used to tell us the messages to be sent to the headquarters ship as to what they would like sent in, like tanks, or more troops, or that sort of thing. That’s what we used to do on the beach.
I’d never seen such a barracks in me life before. It was put up, by our side, like, before we made the cross in. But, fortunately, when we got the other side, all there was to greet us was some Italians with their cases, waiting to be taken prisoner. It was pretty easy job, that one.
They were sitting in toe of Italy, and I was walking along the road one day, in the town, and a chap came towards me and he said, “I know you.” And I said, “Oh yeah, I know you, too. You’re Charlie Watkins, lived in the next street to where I lived in Avonmouth [England].” And he said, “Yes, that’s right.” And he said, “Now, your cousin is along here in the barracks.” And I had a beard. I’d grown a beard at that time. It was - he said, “Come along with me and stand outside and I’ll tell him there’s someone to see you out here. See if he recognizes you.” Anyway, he went and came out, oh, he recognized me as my cousin who lived in same street as I did. It was quite funny to see those people.
The ship we went across in [on D-Day 1944] was called the Isle of Guernsey, which was a passenger ship between Weymouth and The [English] Channel liners before the war. That’s the ship we went across in. Then we were put into the landing craft, and the landing craft let down into the sea which was very, very choppy at the time. And there we proceeded to the shore [at Juno Beach]. And, once the front opened up, you had to jump out and run up the beach. But, thankfully, at the top of the beach, was about an eight-foot wall, which we made there, went to the wall, and you could see the bullets went in the sand as you were running up the beach. But, we were thankful to get up to this wall and once we got at the wall, we dug a hole for ourselves and got in, but, of course, poor Canadian soldiers had to carry on.
It was a long day I can tell you. Yeah, I think we went ashore about half past seven, we landed, you know, in the morning. There was sand, too, where everybody got a stand-to in case we get a counter-attack or anything like that. But I’m afraid I didn’t see it because I’d dug myself a hole and I was in the hole. And they said if you put your head up, you’d have been shot.
The Germans had brought a gun in place, out on the other side of the river, which was, you know, based in a tunnel, and they used to push it out and fire shells across the beach at night, which wasn’t very pleasant, I can tell you.
And I sat in a German dugout, we were on watch, two of us, at night one time, and I sat – you know, the dugout got a little lookout all the way round, and there was a telephone on there, which I was sat in there and one of the, a bit of shrapnel must have come through and it cut the telephone right in half. And I was just sat next to it. That was a bit of a scare. Oh, it didn’t take all that long, to get rid of those machine guns. No, they sorted them out, about an hour I suppose, and the beach was more or less clear then, although you had got snipers. There was snipers up in the church tower and all that. They sorted them out, after a bit.
When the main party, our main party, came in later in the day, the beach was sort of more or less secured, and there was this big house on the beach, which we took over and made it our headquarters where we lived and slept and carried on. You know, you’d have to carry on sending signals out to the ship and, you know, what was coming in and what they wanted in and what they wanted out and all that sort of thing, you know. This house was at, just at the top of the beach. It was a big house and that’s where we signalled from, like, mostly by radio.