Just don't call us heroes - the brave boys of D-Day

Memories from a time of conflict


British troops wait for the signal to move forward, during the first day of the Allied landing operations in Normandy, on June 6, 1944

British troops wait for the signal to move forward, during the first day of the Allied landing operations in Normandy, on June 6, 1944

Abba Myer Malin will never forget the moment he escaped death in a German landmine blast.

Mr Malin was a 20-year-old bombardier in the Field Artillery Corps when he landed on the beaches on the second day of the Normandy D-Day landings.

"Our job was to provide artillery support," he recalled. "I remember riding in a Bedford truck with the driver, a wireless operator and my officer when we hit a landmine and the vehicle blew up. We were all very lucky - none of us were seriously injured but we were all heavily concussed. The French resistance then found us and took us back to a hideout.

"They gave us acorn coffee - which was awful and no cure for a concussion at all."

Mr Malin was recalling his narrow escape in the week of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the decisive moment in June 1944 when Allied forces established a foothold in Nazi-occupied France and began the long process of pushing Hitler's troops back to Berlin.

Now 90 and living in Hatch End, north-west London, Mr Malin said he experienced real fear after he had advanced off the beach - codenamed Gold - into the Normandy countryside.

He said: "We weren't afraid until some French resistance fighters told us that there were Germans, possibly SS, holed up in a big house in the forest with a very large anti-aircraft gun."

The retired management consultant said he and his comrades "were aware that we were were part of something momentous. But at the same time we were just a small cog in a great machine. Back then we didn't think in terms of it being historic - we just wanted to get through."

Londoner Mervyn Kersh was a 19-year-old private in the Royal Ordinance Corps when he landed on Gold beach on the fourth day of the landings.

A group of Royal Marine commandos moving off the beaches during the advance inland

A group of Royal Marine commandos moving off the beaches during the advance inland

"On the boats we were woken up by the Navy people at about five o'clock in the morning while it was still dark but we could just make-out the coastline of France. All around us the sea was full of crafts and boats of all kinds crowded together.

"When we landed, we went up a ramp onto the beach so quickly we didn't even get our feet wet. The Allied battleships behind us were firing shells over our heads towards the Germans, and the Germans were firing back at the battleships and the smaller landing craft in the sea behind us. The noise from the shells felt so close that it took us a while to realise that the shells weren't actually being aimed at us.

"After the beaches, our unit made it up to the top of the cliff where local French villagers greeted us. But once there, we were fired upon by snipers from all directions - we never found out if they were Germans or French, but we just kept our heads down and no-one was hit."

He added: We were afraid - we were very aware of the risks. But at the same time I was very pleased to be part of it. I am still very proud of what we did."

Twenty-four-year-old Walter Hart had already seen action as part of the British Expeditionary Forces during the Battle of Dunkirk.

As a lance corporal in the medical corps, he recalled his experience of treating the wounded on the beaches as "horrific. Often we worked under gunfire in the field hospital we set up near the front line," he said. "It was just a job we had to do."

All three veterans were due to return to Normandy this week to take part in the 70th anniversary commemoration events which will be attended by heads of state including the Queen, President Obama and President Putin.

Mr Kersh will mark the occasion by placing wooden magen davids on the graves of Jewish soldiers who died during the Second World War.

Mr Malin will also lay a wreath on behalf of Ajex – the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women - at the statue of Field Marshal Montgomery who commanded Allied troops in France.

David Teacher will be following events in France from his home in Manchester. Aged 19 on June 6 1944, as a leading aircraftsman in the RAF unit responsible preparing the way for the arrival of the main invasion forces, he was among the first to arrive in Normandy.

He said: "When we went ashore we waded through six feet of water. Under the cover of darkness, before the Germans woke up, we prepared the ground with white tape, marking out the safe areas for the assault troops.

"We had to be very positive - we didn't let fear creep in." But, he insisted: "We weren't heroes at all. There was a job that had to be done and that was it."

Last updated: 2:28pm, June 6 2014