This is a true account in the life of one soldier, private (sapper) Bernard Gregory (my grandad) 50th infantry division, Royal Engineers. Regimental no 14652693, whom, along with many others took part in the Normandy Landings on D-day, 6th June 1944. - Gerard Slevin

“Our journey started after training in Scotland for several weeks. We travelled all the way down to the south of England where we stayed in Ipswich for a few nights. On our journey we slept rough on graveyards and bushes not knowing where we were going or what lay ahead.

During our training we were sometimes duped into thinking we were going to places like Africa and India. However, none of this was true as the whole operation was top secret. I left East Anglia on the 2nd June for Southampton moving through the night.

We met up with other ships at Southampton and set sail for Normandy on the 6th June, - the delay being due to bad weather. There was over 5000 ships in all. Early in the morning on the 6th June we approached VER SUR MER. The sea was very rough and very dangerous. The RAF were bombing the defences. When they stopped bombing the bombardment started. The bombardment was highly successful. Most of the other German defences were destroyed or neutralized.

Part of my job was cleaning mines, blowing up pillboxes and breaching the sea wall. The most difficult part was seeing friends being killed or maimed. After our invasion we made our way through the town within the day. I celebrated my 19th Birthday in Normandy.

The events at VER SUR MER on June 6th 1944 were a vital part of the liberation of France in 1944 and Victory in Europe in 1945.

After the War

So much has changed since I first joined up in April 1943. Conscription they called it. I was only 17 and knew nothing about war or fighting. But I had no choice. Most young men my age were called to serve their country. I was the youngest of 6 boys in our family and looking back now I realise how hard it must have been for my mum to see all her boys go off to war and not know if she would ever see any of us again.

And so it was, off for months of training…….etc.

After we liberated France we moved upwards through Belgium and then onto Germany. We eventually arrived in Hamburg and it was while we were there that war was officially declared to be over. It was 1945 and I was 20 years old. We spent several weeks in Hamburg before being sent onto Ostend in Belgium to await further orders. Palestine was discussed but we never did get there. It was during this time that my father fell ill at home and I had to get special leave to go and see him. Unfortunately he died before I got home but I did manage to get to his funeral. Afterwards I returned to Belgium.

We were sent back to Gareloch Head Scotland where it was our job to dispose of all unused ammunition. A daunting and very difficult task. Nevertheless someone had to do it. At one time a train carrying ammunition exploded killing several people. This was a very real danger all the time. I celebrated my 21st Birthday in Scotland.

My unit was then transferred to Malta, Lintorn Barracks, to act as peacekeepers on the island. It was also our job to protect the people. I enjoyed my time in Malta, however, by July 1947 we were to return to England.

I arrived in Liverpool by ship and it was here that I was de-mobbed. I was given a new suit of clothes, a shirt and tie, a pair of shoes and an overcoat. The army paid me up to date and also gave me £144 gratuity. (Quite a lot of money in 1947) I then travelled by train to Manchester to be re-united with my family. With the extra money the army gave me I bought my mum a new 3-piece suite of furniture and a mahogany china cabinet.

My family lived In Buckingham Street, Manchester and it was while living here that I met my future wife, an Irish girl called Jane McCarthy. She was visiting relatives at the time. (We have now been married for 52 years!!) We also had the biggest family reunion ever as ALL my brothers survived the war.

Like I said, so much had changed in the 4 years I had been away. My family had been ‘bombed out’ several times and each time they had to be re-housed and start all over again, replacing furniture, clothes etc. Not an easy time for my mum who had also been widowed during the war. But she still managed to bring up my two sisters and keep our family going through it all.

Finding work after the war was not easy. So many men had returned and were all looking for employment, but with factories and office buildings bombed, work was hard to find. To add to that, during the war many women had gone to work to help out on ‘the home front’. The women worked in the factories, on the buses, generally doing all the work that ment had done in the past. Now having found independence, understandably were reluctant to give up their jobs.

Landscapes dramatically changed too. I remember whole streets missing because of the bombing. At times I would, momentarily, find myself lost. It all took a lot of getting used to. It was sad too, to see so many landmarks I had known, gone, never to be replaced. Churches and schools disappeared too.

Another aspect of war (or the after effects) was food, or the lack of it. Rationing was brought in during the war but because of so many difficulties it was retained until 1952. Each family member had his or her own ration book. We had 2 ‘meatless days’ every week. These were days when no meat could be bought, usually Tuesdays and Thursdays. Oranges and Bananas were also in short supply. To get either of these it was necessary to have a doctor’s note. Only then could the fruit be bought.

Fashions changed too; For instance, men’s suits became narrower and did not have turn-ups on the trousers. Jackets became single breasted instead of double (to save on material and buttons!!) Women’s fashions changed too. Every day things like blankets, cups, pots etc. were all in short supply and continued to be so for a long time. Because of these shortages, unemployment and frustration, the black market rocketed and crime escalated. However the new Labour government – voted into power in 1945 – began to lay the foundations of a welfare state. This eventually helped lots of people who otherwise had no money for anything!

As I settled down and tried to get some kind of normality back into my life, things around me continued to change because of restrictions and shortages during the war. I did find some work as a painter and decorator which I enjoyed for quite a long time.

In Europe many countries faced similar problems, some even worse. Germany was very badly affected from all the bombings and in Nuremberg trials wer being held to bring all those responsible for the war and the atrocities to justice.

In 1995 I attended the 50th Anniversary celebrating the end of the war. The celebrations were held in Hyde Park in London. And in June this year, 2004, I hope to visit Ver-sur-Mer for the 60th anniversary. ******

A lot has happened since 1945 mostly for the better. However, I would not like to see another war in order for things to change. Let’s hope that never happens.

****** Bernard did manage to get to Normandy for the 60th Anniversary celebrations. He was a personal guest of the Lord Mayor of Normandy and his wife. He also met up with Nicole and her family.