what did you do in the war dad? (2)

"My Dad was a photographer with the Royal Navy. He still has a few special pictures, including one that includes Field Marshal Montgomery and, I think, General Patton when they met to plan the liberation of Europe. Most of his war stories involved playing football for the Royal Navy at venues in Egypt and Malta: he never really talks about the war as such.

The only real story he tells was repeated to us during the D-Day commemoration this year. On D-Day+2 he left Portsmouth on a flat-bottomed landing craft which was armed with rockets. He’d had his nineteenth birthday just a week earlier. The task was to fire the rockets over the heads of the Allied troops on Gold Beach to help quell the defences. His job was to take photographs of the rockets as they were launched. They were primitive affairs compared to the modern day. He described the beach as being ‘like Skegness, only with barbed wire’ – but I think he was lightening the situation a little! In the event the seas were too rough to allow the rockets to be fired safely, so they returned to Portsmouth.

On a flat-bottomed craft the journey, in rough seas, must have been pretty grim and lengthy. It struck me the first time he told us, and again in June, that he was just one of thousands of frightened young men who were there to liberate Europe from the Nazis. His part didn’t involve anything like the horrors that many on both sides must have witnessed. Nonetheless, it can’t have been easy.

On another occasion, and much later in the war, he was in barracks at Portsmouth when they heard a V1 rocket overhead, and its engine stopped. Their Chief Petty Officer ordered them to take cover and the V1 hit the barracks next to theirs.

Like so many others he left his home – in Sheffield – as a seventeen year old youth and his parents only rarely saw him or knew where he was."

Mike Cushing