The D-Day Stories Of Listeners' Families That Moved James O'Brien So Much

6 June 2019, 13:02

James O'Brien was asking for people to give their family stories of the people involved in D-Day - and the result proved so moving for listeners. Here are the responses.

My grandfather was injured in Germany during WW2. He was picked up by a German family who hid and took care of him the best they could for two weeks and three days. When the fighting died down in the area, the German man of the house made contact with the Red Cross who came and picked him up. My Grandfather and grandmother never said a bad word about the Germans.
James, Islington

My dad Edwin Martin Bentheim was an anti-Nazi activist in Weimar period in Berlin. Imprisoned in '33, he was let out from his cell by guard the night Hitler took power. Dad thought it was a trick to shoot him as he escaped, but the guard kept his word. A prostitute hid him and saved his life. Escaped to London and joined German Resistance. He lost his Jewish family in the camps. After the war he refused to hate - i was brought up by the most lovely German au pairs who became part of our family. He abhorred violence because he had seen too much. Didn't speak of his experiences. A wonderful man.

My father Bert Shipley was in the special boat service (SBS) during the war. He was on a mission pre D-Day where he and his team took under cover of darkness a couple of geologists via small rubber boats to take samples of the beach later known as Juno. This was so they could calculate if the heavy equipment would be able to make it up the beach without getting stuck. It came out in conversation over eggs on toast one morning. The one and only time he talked about it. A different breed James. RIP Bert Shipley of Child's Hill, London. My hero.

My grandad was conscripted, he travelled from Manchester to Portsmouth and as he was getting on the boat a telegram arrived to say his father was dying and he must return. He did so, and arrived before his father died. The sadder thing was that the boat he was meant to be on sank and all men perished. So if my great grandad's timing had been different, and all that.

A D-Day veteran's medals
A D-Day veteran's medals. Picture: PA

My Grandad was in the first wave of soldiers on the beach that day, he rarely spoke of it but one thing he said was walking through the water, pushing past the bodies of men he had spent the last two hours chatting to and even laughing with and the smell that no words can describe.

This is Andrew. My dad Dick Winters (now 96) ran off the landing craft in France with his mates who he had trained with for several months and within minutes was wounded and taken POW. What followed was an incredible journey. We, the family, knew nothing of this until three years ago he presented us with a bundle of A4 pages he had bashed out on an old typewriter detailing his experiences. His hero is Clement Atlee.

It brings tears to my eyes and makes me very emotional listening to all of these incredible stories. My grandfather, Geoffrey Palau, lost his left leg below the knee in the second WW. His friend lifted him up and carried him to safety and because he lost his leg, it saved his life because most of his regiment were killed after that. It was particularly hard for him losing his leg because he held the U16 record for 100 yard sprinting for 50 years and was a keen rugby player. He was an absolute hero to me.

My great uncle Freddy was treated very badly as a POW, then died at sea - under tragic friendly fire. His mother could never accept his loss and expected him to walk in the door until the day she died. We'll never repay the sacrifice of that generation.
Julie, Suffolk

My Grandad, John Collins, was at Dunkirk. He and a number of other soldiers had fallen asleep on the beech and the man next to my Grandad was killed by being shot or shrapnel and bled all over my Grandad. The stretcher bearers on seeing my Grandad thought he was injured and ran him straight onto one of the waiting boats and to safety.
Matt, New Eltham

The Red Arrows flypast at the Memorial Service
The Red Arrows flypast at the Memorial Service. Picture: PA

My late Grandfather Reginal Robert Read was sent back from the front line early in the war as he lost half a leg. He retrained as a bomb disposal specialist and help defuse over 1000 unexploded ordinance in London. I still have two (safe) clock and firing units. He was one of the few that lived during and after the war. After this programme, I have had to go to the loft and now the two units are proud of place in my lounge.
Steve, Southgate

A Glasgow D Day tribute to my Grandad.On this day 75 years ago I am proud to say that my Granda Eddie Kirkwood was preparing to land on the beaches of Normandy in Northern France, as part of the Allied invasion to liberate Europe. He fought as part of the 5th (and later the 10th) Glasgow Battalions of the Highland Light Infantry, 15th Scottish Division. He was involved in ferocious heavy fighting with the German Panzer Divisions, in and around Cheux, brutal hand to hand, house to house war fighting, and took part in the Battle of Caen, and then the Battle of The Falaise Pocket, before later fighting on through Belgium, Holland and over the Rhine, then into Bremen,  to witness the surrender of the German Army in April 1945. The HLI, better known as the ‘Glesgae Keelies’ were recruited from in and around the Maryhill / Glasgow area, just ordinary local boys that were asked to do something extraordinary for the sake of us, our families, our city and our futures. During my time spent on holiday in France, in recent years, I retraced the battalions steps and I visited a wee place called Bayeaux, just outside the city of Caen, where Granda fought, there is an Allied war cemetery there that is the final resting place of many of the young men from the HLI, boys from Maryhill , many of whom may have been close friends of Granda. Quite a sombre experience I have to say. Unfortunately I never got a chance to meet him but I’m still proud to learn about the story of him.

Our great uncle Jim Harris from Ebbw Vale South Wales landed on Omaha Beach with the US 75 years ago today.  He was with the Royal Artillery. He was 20 years old when he landed. We lost him a few years ago. He was a wonderful man.

Just wanted to share my memories for Norman, or John as he preferred to be known. I met John when I was caring for him in a OAP Care home. John was bed-bound, his daughter and remaining family were dead, although his lovely son in law visited him weekly. I’m honoured that John shared fragments of his experience with me, he was a prisoner of war in Japan, while his brother died on the beaches on D-Day. I’m also honoured to have cared for John when he had no one else left to look after him. John’s no longer with us but I’m forever changed by his gentle kindness and his outlook on life, nothing made him happier than singing WW2 songs together.  I’m truly humbled to have known him.

My Grandfather, Frederick Mullett, 3rd battalion Irish Guards, landed after D-day, participated in operation market garden, fought through Holland into Germany, after VE-Day, he trained as a Commando in Scotland to go to the Pacific theatre but they dropped the bomb before he was shipped out. After the war he joined the British Palestinian police force until the last boat left Haifa Harbour in 48. He's still alive, 95 years old, still got his wits about him.

My husband's cousin Denys Street was one of the 50 officers shot by the Gestapo following his escape from Stalag Luft. He was the son of Sir Arthur Street. A fellow prisoner Denis Sinclair came to tell Sir Arthur the fate of his son and ended up marrying Denys Street's twin sister Nancy.

My grandfather Lionel Lumley was in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Manchester as chief gunner and part of the Maltese convoy. I have many wonderful stories that he told me whilst growing up, he sadly passed away nearly 4 years ago , he would of been celebrating his 100th birthday this year he really was a wonderful man my hero.

My Grandfather, Frederick Mullett, 3rd battalion Irish Guards, landed after d-day, participated in operation market garden, fought through Holland into Germany, after ve-day he trained as a Commando in Scotland to go to the Pacific theatre but they dropped the bomb before he was shipped out. After the war he joined the British Palestinian police force until the last boat left Haifa Harbour in 48. He's still alive, 95 years old, still got his wits about him.

James my husband's cousin Denys Street was one of the 50 officers shot by the Gestapo following his escape from Stalag Luft. He was the son of Sir Arthur Street. A fellow prisoner Denis Sinclair came to tell Sir Arthur the fate of his son and ended up marrying Denys Street's twin sister Nancy. Jane

I was very fortunate to have my great-grandad as my role model and best mate we even had the same birthday. As I was growing up he would tell me his stories he served as a Chindit in Burma. He always would tell me how the Gurkhas were the greatest and bravest soldiers in the world. Walter was one of three brothers from a small village called Mosley out side of Ashton his younger brother James joined up underage as both of his brothers had gone off to war. He was one was killed in action on 7 January 1945, aged 19 and was buried in Bure, Tellin, temporary burial ground. He was later reinterred in Hotton War Cemetery on 21 May 1947. His eldest brother Bill fought in Italy where he never returned from as he married an Italian woman and started a family. My grandfather Walter suffered all of his life from PTSD from a beach attack when the Japanese fisher planes dive bombed a beach. Walter and his friend ran for cover and he dragged what was left of his friend into the trench with him to try to find cover from the attack. He also recalled the Gurkhas being marched into the bunk in silence and how they would lay their kit out perfectly on their bunks as if some one was lay there. Then there commanding officer came in to the bunks and gave a command the Gurkhas produced their kukri and disappeared into the jungle and took out an entire Japanese unit in silence. I was very very lucky to have known such an amazing man and hear some of the tales he was prepared to share with me.

Six-year-old George Sayer wearing the medals of his great uncle
Six-year-old George Sayer wearing the medals of his great uncle. Picture: PA

Both my grandparents fought in the war, paternal side was in the Navy, maternal side was Africa, Italian and the Burma campaigns - so they missed D-Day. I wanted to say is there are a few books, not many, of interviews with the Germans on D-Day too. Many of them untrained, unprepared poorly led and fed, and far removed from the ideals of the Third Reich. Family men and youngsters misled and almost brainwashed by the Hitler Youth, conscripts and many that didn't want to be there. The Allies were brave beyond doubt, but spare a thought for the innocent and even the civilians caught up in the fighting.
Andy Basingstoke

My Dad was a French 16 year old in Caen Normandy and joined the French Resistance because of his English teacher, a well known resistant called Guy Mollet.

To say I am proud of my grandfather is an understatement. My father could never speak about it as all to painful. He was 11 and at boarding school when he died after surviving the war. This says it all.

My father was an RAF air gunner, he dropped dummy exploding parachutes behind enemy lines to confuse German forces. Bill sadly passed two years ago. His best mate was a Polish Jew who escaped from Poland at the age of 16 and became a spitfire pilot. Dad was very sad at the Brexit result as he battled for a free Europe.
Bill in Bedford

My mum (sadly passed away in 2015) was orphaned in northern Greece in the war. Both her parents were murdered within a week of each other in 1944, leaving five orphans. This was following her grand parents having been killed in 1923 after the forced marches of Pontic Greeks from the Black Sea in Turkey ('population exchange' when Christians had to leave turkey and Muslims had to leave Greece ). This was after the Greco Turkish war that followed the First World War, leading to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Twice victims of ethno-nationalism in the 20th century.
Dimitri, Streatham

It's almost 75 years later, I suddenly realise what happened. My maternal Grandparents - male and female - worked in munitions in Surrey for the duration. They supervised and operated machinery in shifts in factories that were regularly bombed. They never said a thing, struggled to live happily and died of ill health in their mid 60s.

My great uncle Femi Okeowo, a Yoruba soldier from South Western Nigeria, served in North Africa, Italy and Burma in WW2. I know this segment is about the D-Day heroes, but I feel we should never forget African, East and West Indians heroes who fought for our collective freedoms.
Goke in Thamesmead

My great grandfather William Roper was the first British soldier to be killed in WW2.  When I spoke to my grandma about this earlier today, she said she can't remember much apart from the huge street party after, as she thought it was for her 5th birthday!

I call them a 'Unique' generation who we will never see the likes of again. Incredibly unselfish. I know this as most of my family on my mum's side were involved in it. A Desert Rat, a Wren and my Mum who did her part in the Land Army. The stories I have been told I will never forget.
Sara, East London

My mother Mary Wiggin nee' McLennan was Admiral Ramsey's PA at Dover during D Day. She used to get all the info from the main Ops room and then update his personal one in his office. Due to the utmost secrecy even she was non the wiser regards the Op. So on 6 June 1945 questioned her colleagues as to the amount of vessels laid out on the plotting map.

My D-Day hero grandfather Captain Philip Henry Ernest Jones RAMC, D-Day plus 5 days. Previously rescued 50 Jewish families from Vienna 1938 on a private mercy mission. His brother Mike D-Day plus 17 minutes on Gold Beach.  Helped liberate Bayeux then Paris then up the Rhine into Germany. Surveyed concentration camps and was traumatised for life but never lost the passion for what is right and good. He would be outraged by what we see today. Have been trying to get his story out for years and delighted to do so here.

My Grandfather joined the Royal Marines before the war and spent 12 years with them. He spent his time on ships throughout the war as a Royal Marine Sergeant and severed on the Russian Convoys, he was part of the Bombardment of the beaches on D-Day and the he set sail for the Far East to fight the Japanese. While out there, he liberated Nagasaki Jail and was one the first guys in there. He never spoke of what he saw but he changed when he came back according to my Grandmother.

My maternal grandfather Sub Officer Bill Mendham OBE. He joined the national fire service in 1934 at his local fire station in Clerkenwell. When war broke out, it became a protected profession. He felt guilt of not being able to join the armed services, he tried but to no avail. Anyway on the first night of the Blitz, he along with one of his mates were sent to St. Paul's Cathedral. They had one line and one bucket and stayed there for over 22 hours for that they were awarded an OBE for bravery which was very rare. He lost so many mates during the Blitz and war but never spoke of his actions. Well, he inspired me as I've now done 23 years in the LFB.

I wanted to tell you about my dad Peter Newton and uncle Doug Rigden, both in the Royal Artillery light anti-Aircraft battery who at the time of D-Day had been fighting for 3three years. They had done the desert campaign including Al Alimain and were working their way up through Italy. D-Day was the turning point for the Allies as Troops were pulled off the Italy front to fight in France. They both survived the war and moved back to Whitstable. Sadly they are no longer with us but had long full lives.
Simon, Whitstable

Please read the names of my grandparents. My maternal grandad Frank Scott was in the marines... he died before I was born so know little about his actions. He was a policeman until retirement when he came out the army. His wife Dorothy Scott was in the WRVS working as an air raid warden. My paternal grandad James Alexander was in the merchant navy, not in the armed forces, but did the Atlantic run, many times. His ship was torpedoed but it hit a part of the ship that ensured it sank slowly and was rescued. The ship next to his went down very quickly, many died. He remembered the screams of help from the water but powerless to do anything apart from chucking things that floated overboard in the hope it would save a life. He never really spoke about this until he was in his nineties..

My grandad, Harold Utting, served in North Africa. Came home after the war to find out his baby Daughter, Ruth, my mums sister, had died a cot death. Refused to talk about the war apart from saying one thing: "War is hell". Suffered dreadful migraines the rest of his life, died in 1985. Never complained, ever. A true hero.
Gian, Lewes