Watch four of our East Anglian Normandy veterans tell their stories of D-Day heroism
PUBLISHED: 15:31 11 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:31 11 June 2019
Copyright: Archant 2019
The last voices of the longest day: our veterans tell us their incredible D-Day stories, from seasickness to blind fear, heroism to horror.
Seventy-five summers have passed since Len Fox, Jack Woods, David Woodrow and Harry Bowdery were young soldiers involved in the largest military invasion the world has ever seen - on the anniversary of D-Day and close to the beaches where they landed on June 6 1944, they shared their stories.
The four veterans returned to Normandy for D-Day 75 where they attended numerous services of remembrance and thanks organised by the French.
Jack Woods, from the 9th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment, 31 Tank Brigade; David Woodrow from the 652 Air Observation, Royal Air Force; Len Fox, Despatch Rider, Royal Service Corps and Harry Bowdery, Chief Petty Officer, Royal Navy all played vital roles in D-Day and the following Normandy Campaign.
Harry, part of the crew of a landing craft, helped land the first wave of American Second Ranger Battalion at Pointe du Hoc just after 7am on D-Day in terrible conditions which saw two other landing craft lost: Pointe du Hoc, one of the most dangerous Germany defensive positions on the Normandy coast, was between Utah and Omaha beaches.
The Haverhill veteran then returned with the landing craft on two more occasions to take soldiers to one of the bloodiest landing beaches, Omaha.
"If you've seen the first 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, you have an idea of what we faced," he said, as he clutched two crosses for the friends who were cut down by machine gun fire before even reaching the beach, PFC Raymond Cole, 21 and Corporal Robert Brice, 22, "except it was far, far worse."
David, standing on the beach where he waded to shore - overlooked by the new British memorial to those who died in the Normandy Campaign from June to August which he helped to open in a ceremony attended by Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron the French President - remembered rough seas and nervous faces.
"Being back on the same beach after all these years is strange: at the same time it looks exactly the same and completely different," said the Topcroft veteran.
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Jack Woods, from Norwich, landed after D-Day to support Operation Overlord: "I was violently sick on the way over and would have done absolutely anything to get off that boat. I remember one of the first things I saw was a German infantry patrol lying dead right across the road - I wondered how it could be justified that these young men had been slaughtered. It seemed like madness."
And Len Fox, from just outside Norwich, recalled "hell on earth", the sight that greeted him on June 6 1944. "On the way over we were all sick due to the rough sea. On arrival we looked at the most awesome sight. Warships, troopships, barges, landing craft, inshore rocket craft, planes overhead, barrage balloons, all hell being let loose, the noise bursting my ear drums. As a 19-year-old it was the nearest thing to hell I'd ever seen, and that's where I thought I was."
They are a dwindling brigade of old soldiers: the young men who once nervously waited for the signal to move forward in June 1944 are now edging towards the grand age of 100 - but their memories are as vivid as if they were yesterday and their stories are vitally important. They cannot forget. We MUST not forget.