Sidcup Rotary Club

District 1120   RI Club No 19449

Founded 1935

Tony Jenkins joined the Rotary Club of Sidcup in 1976. He was proud to be our President in 1992/3. He led the club on three unforgettable visits to the D Day Beaches. He recorded his memories of those momentous days in 1944 and we feel privileged to publish them here as a fitting tribute to a good man, a good Rotarian and a friend that we will all miss. He died in January 2008. For more information about Tony’s life click here.

We were taken to Romsey and locked up in Lord Mountbatten's estate, where we pored over maps, sand tables and up-to-the-minute RAF photographs of where we were going - but without any place names.

A newly-wed climbed over the wall for a honeymoon refresher course and came back feeling better.

General Montgomery came and stood on his jeep: "Gather round, chaps, I want to talk to you." He had a good reputation, not only for beating the Afrika Korps, and we listened.

At last, on June 1st, they let us out. But it was only for a drive to Southampton. It was an eye-opener. Every wood, every tree, every scrap of cover hid heavy guns, big tanks and vehicles of all kinds. And people. The New Forest and the port's outskirts were crowded with camps. If someone had said that there were half a million armed men in southern Hampshire, few would have disagreed.

Our lorry stopped; we jumped out and marched down Southampton Avenue. Men and women lined the roads shouting good luck, offering buns, cakes and mugs of tea. At the docks a multitude of ships were stacked wall-to-wall. We walked up the gangplank into our Landing Ship Infantry. It was comfortable and the food was Navy food, so it was good.

Some of us became very uncomfortable, however, as the ship yawed and pitched in torrential rainstorms as it sat in the Channel for four days, waiting.

The last time we'd sat in the Channel we'd ended up in a practice landing in Studland Bay. This trip, we knew, wasn't going to be quite the same. We kept occupied with cleaning weapons, PE and studying aerial photographs. The 'tannoy' loudspeaker spoke to us at intervals with instructions.

One particular day it crackled yet again...

"At 17.45 hours," said the metallic Royal Naval officer's voice, "this ship will weigh anchor and, in passage with the rest of the armada, sail for the coast of France."

The card players stopped in mid deal. People came abruptly awake, stopped writing, reading, chatting, mending. There was a sudden profound silence that probably went through the entire fleet, as people considered what those words meant. It was Monday 5th June 1944 and after four days waiting aboard ship in ferocious thunderstorms we began to roll through the waves through the night.

The tannoy awoke us with the usual rude naval words at 3.15 am. After a wash and shave we lined up for a mug of tea and an English breakfast - if we could face it.

Around us already was a ferocious barrage of sound. In the huge convoy cruisers and destroyers fired at the coast, smoke appearing at the giant gun's mouths long before a 'BOOM' was heard. Warships flung shells that tore overhead like large houses before erupting on the shore. A rocket ship loosed off ninety missiles every fifteen seconds with an enormous 'WOW'. Squadrons of planes flew over, bombing coastal batteries.

At about 4.15 am we lined up for the landing craft, a platoon in each. The dark sky has just begun to lighten. Muttered orders, weapons clinking, swearing at grazed shins, boots thumping on hull bottoms. We climbed in and sat in three lines on the craft's bottom, trying not to think about what lay ahead.

Our Royal Marine driver was in a little cockpit high on the starboard bow. He looked very exposed and we didn't envy him. The motor started up and we moved off. As the sun rose above the eastern horizon we chugged towards shore, 7 miles away.

There were no clouds; the sky was blue; there was a soft breeze. Someone said idly that it looked like it would be a nice day. A tense voice told him what he could do with it.

'Well,' I thought, 'here we are. This is what all that hard training, cliff climbing, forced marches and rough sleeping had been for.'

Our battalion had been told that we were going in 45 minutes, after two assault battalions, to strike inland - dealing first with a coastal battery and, much further on, a fortified radio station near the main Caen-Bayeux road.

With a dawn wind the sea became choppy and green-faced men huddled over the side of the boat. Buildings appeared on the distant shoreline. The little craft bucked and bounced closer. We began to see several vehicles on fire on the beach and later, appallingly, bodies floating in the water. Our driver piloted us skillfully though a maze of chunks of railway line embedded in concrete. The ramp went down. The doors swung open.

"Christ lads," rumbled a Geordie voice, "this is bleedin' it!"

We ran down, jumped into the water and waded onto the beach. No bullets so far, I thought. Soft sand, then pebbles. What relief to be on dry land!

Dry land? Yes, but what land? For heaven's sake, this was bloody France! Ruled by the Nazis for four years. It was a dream. I bent down to touch the ground, hoping nobody would notice. Firm enough. It wasn't a dream.

Buildings that should have acted as guides had been destroyed by shells, so we'd landed four hundred yards too far west. We trudged along the beach, hearing the wounded groaning as they were carried to waiting boats, and seeing bodies on the ground and in the water. Mortar bombs exploded, aimed at the traffic jam. Tanks, SP guns, anti-mine 'Crab' tanks, carriers, jeeps and engineer tanks with the Petard pillbox-buster: all waited to get off the beach. The beachmaster and his team had a mammoth task.

We marched past the narrow esplanade spluttering and coughing from clouds of smoke and finally found our road south. Suddenly there was a road sign: 'Ver-Sur-Mer'. Where the heck was that?

The heavily bombed coastal battery had been easily taken, yielding as prisoners Russians and Mongols commanded by German officers and NCOs. We left the road - too easy a target - and moved through orchards.

A strange sweet smell - which we were often to notice in the coming months - came from cows killed by shellfire, on their backs with four feet in the air.

Sniper and skillfully-placed machine guns were a curse.

After a few miles we climbed up through Creully, famed for the castle where Duke William feasted his knights before his invasion the other way 878 years earlier. We saw our first French people, peering at us through their windows as if we were men from Mars. No waves or offers of Calvados. Worried, no doubt, that the Germans would be back.

We had tanks with us and had just forced the enemy off a ridge when a Spitfire flew over low. We waved our coloured identity squares, but it had gone. Shortly after came a salvo of naval gunfire, wounding several of our men. We moved back hastily, only to have the next salvo land short. One more salvo and then it stopped. We'd moved so fast inland that we'd been mistaken for German troops. I'm sorry to say that some of our men cast doubts over the eyesight and ancestry of that pilot. Well, he was just doing his job.

A long hard march in the late afternoon through low trees and scrub, along narrow lanes and over fields. There it was. The radio station.

A farm, very large, a real fortress, surrounded by minefields and open plateau with little cover. On the minefield's edge we were fired at, and, since we were way ahead, were ordered to withdraw for the night.

Up at 4.14 am and on the start line at 5.30 am. As we walked along a mine-free route - cleared during the night by engineers - through ripening corn towards the farm 600 yards away, there was a hail of bullets and men fell. Everyone dived to the ground. The enemy machine guns were sited low under hedgerows and our heads had to be kept well down.

At last our field guns started shelling. Chest resting on gas respirator I peered through the stalks of corn. The sun was hot, the corn smelled sweet. We hadn't had much sleep in the past 24 hours and it was effort to stay awake. Smoke shells exploded in front of us.

We jumped up and ran forward. Tanks of 4/7 Dragoons were moving in and another company were attacking from the west. There was some fighting, but our casualties were not high by the time the farm was taken.

Later, a German staff car came to see what was happening, and became an insurance write-off.

We slept that night in slit trenches a hundred yards or so from the main Caen-Bayeux road.

Four days later we marched across the road to attack a village a few miles on. A German machine gun in a church steeple swept fire along an embankment where our platoon clung to the ground. Hearing a noise below in front I lifted my head to look. The machine gun chattered: a bullet went through the fleshy part of my shoulder, tore through my pack, clanged against my spade and sped off. "I'm hit!" - and the man beside me raised himself on one elbow to help. The machine gun chattered again and he was killed. It was all dreadfully quick. I cursed myself for having spoken. I can never forget it.

I was sent home for a spell in hospital and some convalescence. Then after a few days leave orders came to go back over the Channel. The transit camp had one main task, which was to make sure that the regiments that had lost the most men were replenished first. Two of us were sent in a jeep up the line to an orchard near Caen to join the 1st Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment (of 3rd Infantry Division), which, on D-Day alone had lost 11 officers and 96 other ranks.

Our arrival was the signal for the Germans to use their nebelwerfers, multi-barrelled mortars from which the bombs descended with a loud whine. Everyone leaped into any available slit trench, but my companion up from transit camp, tragically, was unlucky and was killed.

That's it. Battles in Belgium and Holland were yet to come.

It's a fine day, dad, let's go down to the beach."

In May 1944 our infantry battalion had been in camp near Winchester near a lot of Yanks, whom we ribbed for being late for the war and for pinching our girls. Their army mag said a young crooner called Sinatra was making bobby-soxers swoon in the US.

We were taken to Romsey and locked up in Lord Mountbatten's estate, where we pored over maps, sand tables and up-to-the-minute RAF photographs of where we were going - but without any place names.

A newly-wed climbed over the wall for a honeymoon refresher course and came back feeling better.

Tony at Gold Beach

Tony Jenkins - Memories of D-Day

Recollections of the D-Day Landing