Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

D-Day veterans honoured ahead of 75th anniversary

‘The water was full of bodies and they were mostly all Marine Commandos… all you were thinking of was helping each other.’

Chelsea Pensioners Roy Cadman, James George, Bill Fitzgerald, Ernie Boyden, Frank Mouque, George Skipper, and Arthur Ellis during a photocall to honour the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s remaining Battle of Normandy and D-Day Veterans (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Chelsea Pensioners Roy Cadman, James George, Bill Fitzgerald, Ernie Boyden, Frank Mouque, George Skipper, and Arthur Ellis during a photocall to honour the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s remaining Battle of Normandy and D-Day Veterans (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Seven of the surviving veterans from the Battle of Normandy and D-Day have been honoured ahead of the 75th anniversary of the landings next month.

Bill Fitzgerald, 94, who served with the Sussex Regiment, was 18 at the time of the landings and one of seven veterans who attended an event held in their honour at the Royal Hospital Chelsea on Monday.

He described how the soldiers knew they had a job to do, with only each other for support as they approached the beaches on boats.

bpanews_76c20ac9-d9bb-4496-a1d3-ba150ab51475_embedded242839103
Chelsea Pensioner Bill Fitzgerald was 18 during the D-Day landings (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“We were the third one in on the day,” he said.

“We got so far in and then we hit something underneath so we knew we were going to get wet.

“The Beach Master was there shouting out: ‘Get off this bloody beach and don’t get killed.’

“The water was full of bodies and they were mostly all Marine Commandos – but you couldn’t take too much notice, all you were thinking of was helping each other.”

All I can remember is getting a shell very near me, going up into the air and coming down and one of my friends putting my helmet over my face. Chelsea pensioner Bill Fitzgerald, 94

He went on: “We had our packs and rifles and it wouldn’t have been much use landing without a rifle.

“Looking at the bodies, you felt sorry about it, but you had a job to get on that beach and wait for your friends.

“The worst thing is, when you lose some of your comrades coming in they might get shot.”

Mr Fitzgerald added: “When we started out we were all 18 in 1943, we were young lads then. By the time it was 1944 we were really and truly first class soldiers, we knew what to do.”

bpanews_76c20ac9-d9bb-4496-a1d3-ba150ab51475_embedded242839102
Chelsea Pensioners Bill Fitzgerald and Frank Mouque (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Speaking about his time at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, he said: “Most of the time we listen to what the others were doing in the Falklands. I don’t think they fully understand. Our war was different to theirs.”

Mr Fitzgerald did not finish the campaign in France after being injured in a shelling on June 15.

“We had a horrible day fighting and the tanks decided to stop in the woods,” he said.

“Believe me they shelled the hell out of us. All I can remember is getting a shell very near me, going up into the air and coming down and one of my friends putting my helmet over my face.”

bpanews_76c20ac9-d9bb-4496-a1d3-ba150ab51475_embedded242839095
Chelsea pensioners Roy Cadman, James George, Bill Fitzgerald, Ernie Boyden, Frank Mouque, George Skipper, and Arthur Ellis (Jonathan Brady/PA)

His femur was broken in half and he was flown back to London on June 17, where his leg was clamped.

“After I was discharged, I got my suit, I got my hat and you’re outside the door saying ‘what’s next?'” he said.

“There was nobody to talk to who could help you.

“Luckily enough I saw my girlfriend again and we started going out with each other, and we got married in 1948.

“We had two sons after that – it was the end of the war for me then.

“My wife died in 2005. Before she died she said: ‘Look after the children if I go first’, and I’m still looking after them.”

bpanews_76c20ac9-d9bb-4496-a1d3-ba150ab51475_embedded242839081
Chelsea Pensioners Roy Cadman, James George, Bill Fitzgerald, Ernie Boyden, Frank Mouque, George Skipper, and Arthur Ellis (Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)

Frank Mouque, 94, was a corporal in the Royal Engineers disposing bombs on a stretch of land beyond the parapet next to the beach on D-Day.

Asked how he felt on before setting foot on the beach, he said:  “Apprehensive. It wasn’t so much a fear, we knew what was going on and how we were expecting things to be. You’re on a high pitch and you observe everything that’s going on around you in great detail.

“It’s survival thought. Where can I hide? Where am I going to be safe? Should I go over there? No, stop where you are and get under here. You’re tensed all the time.”

PA

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph