Published: 00:01, 06 June 2014 |
Today is the 70th anniversary of the Allied military invasion which marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War. It is likely to be the last significant commemoration for the veterans themselves. Two from Medway relive their parts in Operation Overlord...
Former Royal Marine Terry Owen recalls how when he was 10 years old a ghostly spirit appeared in his bedroom.
And he firmly believes that this heavenly visit gave him everlasting faith which helped him through the horrors of D-Day where he narrowly escaped death many times.
After joining the marines when he was 16 and training as a commando a year later, he joined the flotilla to launch the mass assault from the beaches of northern France.
The rigorous military training left him in good stead for the invasion, but nothing could have prepared him for the harrowing onslaught that he described as “legalised suicide”.
He tells of a catalogue of stories how he was bombarded with shells, pulled bloodied bodies on board his landing craft vehicle, nearly drowned and went days without food and water.
But his most prominent memory was when he went to save a deckhand whom he thought had been hit and two bullets clipped his helmet.
Mr Owen, 88, said : “That’s when I knew the spirit saved my life. I went to see how injured he was and suddenly I could not move my right leg. It was like I was cemented to the deck.
“I thought I had been shot. Seconds later the bullets flew past and suddenly I could move my leg again. There was nothing wrong with it. I knew then that it had been the spirit that saved me. If I had moved another couple of inches I would have been killed.”
Mr Owen, of Knights Road, Hoo, believes it was the same faith that struck when he was forced to cross a minefield.
He said: “I knew if I just ran over it I would be safe. But I was not so sure about the deckhand with me so I told him to follow in footprints and he was OK.”
On another occasion a bomber with its wings alight was heading for their boat.
He said : “I immediately raised my arms to get the pilot’s attention. If it had hit us we would all be dead. He diverted his plane and lost his life to save our lives.”
Thousands died in horrific circumstances in the largest sea-borne invasion in history.
The stark reality of the scale of the massacre hit home when Mr Owen attended his demob ceremony in Portsmouth.
He said: “Out of 44 of my crew there was one there. A bloke called Charlie Brown. I couldn’t begin to estimate how many of my colleagues perished.”
After coming out of service in September 1946, twice-married Mr Owen went to work in a factory in Reading and then a grocer’s shop.
He moved to Medway because his first wife wanted to be near her parents in Chatham and got a job with Southern Water. He then worked at the BP oil refinery in Grain for 29 years until his retirement.
Mr Owen, who has 16 grandchildren, said : “After being exposed to the horrors of D-Day, I don’t worry much about anything much now.”
His daughter Ruth Homden, 53, who lives in Loose, near Maidstone said she was saddened that there were not any parade or services in Medway to commemorate the anniversary.
Mrs Homden, a mother-of-two, said : “I couldn’t believe it, not even a small service. Everything seems to be in France and there’s nothing for local people.”
The day after his 17th birthday Jack Kendall signed up for the Royal Artillery.
His post as a truck driver and wireless and telephone operator played an integral part in the fall of the Nazis in the Second World War.
While Mr Kendall, 88, from Wainscott, was not involved in the crucial day of the D-Day landings, he was commissioned to install a communications line up a hill in northern France just days afterwards.
Mr Kendall and his colleagues were deployed to carry out the work in an area that they had been assured was “unoccupied by the Germans”.
But as they went about the job they were targeted by a powerful anti-aircraft gun which took the life of one of them and blasted his friend in the leg who was sat down next to him.
“We were 17 and it was just a bit of a laugh. But looking back we were vulnerable.”
Mr Kendall, who lives with wife Vera, 89, in converted farm cottages in Noke Street, said despite the harrowing experience, he “wouldn’t have missed it for the world”.
He said: “Looking back we weren’t really told what was going on. We would just turn up. In the artillery we were moved from pillar to post. If we weren’t in tents we might be digging trenches in the snow to sleep.
“We were 17 and it was just a bit of a laugh. But looking back we were vulnerable” - D-Day vet Jack Kendall
Mr Kendall, who is still an active member of the Normandy Veterans’ Association and an organiser of the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal, said he was saddened that the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings was not being commemorated in Medway.
The father to Barry, 62, who lives next door, said: “I think it’s a great shame that nothing seems to be going on in Medway. We are still a military town and it should be important to the Towns.”
After seven years in service, he went on to run a pub in south east London, moved to Cornwall and was the sub postmaster in Wainscott before retiring at the age of 65.
Mr Kendall said: “I still keep in touch with ex-servicemen friends. And yes, what do we talk about most? – the war.”
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