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Armed forces personnel and council officials stood in silence to remember those who gave their lives on D-Day, 70 years ago.
There are not many still standing who really remember the fallen. But one who does is Royal Naval chairman Kenneth Smith, 89, who in the early hours of June 6, 1944, as the allied forces prepared for invasion, was a 19-year-old seaman-gunner standing on aboard HMS Albatross.
Speaking at the war memorial in Dartford’s Central Park on Friday, he recalled how he could only admire the bravery of the troops going ashore from the relative safety of the sea plane carrier - which was being used as a repair ship to fix landing craft amidst the battle.
“The noise of the guns from the battleships was horrendous,” he said. “To see the lads going ashore; the bravery was second to none. One can only admire what they had to go through. The pillboxes were firing on these chaps and our big guns eventually destroyed these pillboxes, which allowed the lads to venture ashore.”
Anchored off Sword Beach after D-Day, he was far from sheltered from the horrors of war.
“One of the things that was horrendous was the amount of bodies floating around in the sea.
“You could recognise a sailor by his money belt. Quite often these bodies would lose their clothes but the money belt was still on.
“During the next three weeks we remained on Sword Beach. We got hit by shells a couple of times and lost some of our chaps.
“Then we ran out of food and vittles and ammunition and so came back to Portsmouth for revittling and repairs.”
On return to Gold Beach, the ship was torpedoed.
“I was in my hammock. It was during the middle of a watch, and all I remember was a huge explosion.
“We lost 60 chaps. I was wounded and went to hospital - that was my D-Day.”
Despite witnessing such horrors, the veteran admits the excitement and adrenaline often outweighed the fear.
“It was wonderful time,” he said. “Being 19 you don’t see danger.”
The Royal Naval chairman was among those who signed the armed forces covenant at Central Park before the ceremony.
Others included council leader Jeremy Kite, who gave a speech inspired by his recent visit to the battlefields of northern France, and current armed forces representative Captain Clive Phillimore, of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment.
The covenant sets out how the council will ensure that current and past members of the armed forces are supported in the borough, through housing, leisure, education and social services.
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