Memories of D-Day written in 1984 for the Fortieth Anniversary
Memories of D-Day
LAC John Cubitt 1775196
Driver Motor Transport RAF
Written in 1984 for the Fortieth Anniversary
Just 20 years old on 6 June 1944, I was a member of a Mobile Radar Unit Ground Control Interception or GCI for short. A mobile version of the set-up which controlled the fighters in the Battle of Britain.
We were attached to the American Air Force for the invasion. We were loading on the LCTs in Portland Harbour a day or two before D-Day. My vehicle was a Crossley 3-ton vehicle containing the radar transmitter.
I woke up one night to find that we were in motion but when morning came we were back in harbour. This must have been in the night of 4/5 June. The next night there was no returning, we were on our way.
Forty years later, it is difficult to recall some small details as they seem a bit misty round the edges, but the general impressions are still very vivid.
Early on the morning of the 6th June, we woke up to the incredible sight of the invasion Armada. The word Armada has been used to describe this mighty conglomeration of vessels. Every type of vessel from the largest battleship to the small amphibious lorries called DUKWs. Destroyers and similar vessels were dashing round “whoop-whooping” on their sirens. They were using loud hailers to issue instructions.
As the scheduled time for our disembarkation came and went, and the destroyer activity increased with frenetic urgency, we suspected there was something of a “hiccup” in the arrangements. We became aware that there was no movement on the beach. One message on the loud hailers I shall never forget: “Men are urgently needed on the beach.” That “hiccup” in the arrangements was, as subsequent history tells us, fast moving towards disaster. Fortunately for us things did start to move again.
In response to the “men are urgently needed” message, I believe someone told our Australian skipper (there was a large kangaroo painted on the superstructure) that we could be useful and we moved in.
Now we began to see and hear the war at close quarters. We must have been three or four hours late as the tide was well out. We must have been nearly a quarter of a mile out when the ramp dropped. The beach we were approaching was at a place called St Lauren-sur-Mare (sic) and was code-named OMAHA (Red) beach, which has a place of its own in history. In addition I must point out that we were all seasick and had been for some considerable time. We were in a condition often described as “feeling like death”. One of our number actually said at this juncture that he knew he was to die, and indeed he was numbered among the fallen within a short time.
We had the knowledge then, that relief of our present discomfort would only serve to put us at further risk. This situation, of course, was not exclusive to us but was shared by the whole invasion force. The ramp was down, a sub-lieutenant was up to his waist in water with a pole testing the depth of the water, too deep and the first vehicle could sink and completely block the ramp.
I was rather surprised to see columns of water rise here and there as shells burst around the ramp, not too near fortunately. Our engines had been warming up for some minutes.
In front of the boat, there was a Diamond T breakdown truck followed by the CO’s jeep. Jeeps were floating we noticed, so ours was tied to the Diamond T to stop it floating into the beach obstacles which were mined.
Off they went and I engaged four-wheel drive lowest gear and stamped on the accelerator. The engine must not stall under water. I pulled round the Diamond T whilst the jeep was being untied.
I now had the dubious honour of leading the column. The unit medical officer was my passenger for the trip. On reaching the head of the beach I turned right. My way up the sand was through the debris of war. Bodies in various attitudes, radios, vehicles, rifles, equipment, tanks and half tracks blown up as they left the boats, and I was leading a column of “soft” vehicles into this carnage.
We stopped, there was no way off the beach and there we had to stay under a steady barrage of 88mm shells. There was a long curved line of vehicles stretching down to the water’s edge. They began to take direct hits. We had some diesel generators on lorry chassis, each had 40 gallon drums of diesel oil on board. A direct hit on a drum of diesel sent smoke a hundred feet up, quite spectacular.
Men began to get hit and the MO and his orderly were getting to work. I dived under my vehicle, a rather foolish move as two tyres were soon flattened by shrapnel and I moved out again.
The padre walked into some dead ground looking for somewhere to move to and saw that there was a road out blocked by a bank of shingle. Somewhere or other he found an armoured bulldozer and got the driver to doze away the bank.
On my right, one of our airmen was lying on his face, his toes beating an agonised tattoo in the sand. I found out later that he had been hit in the kidneys and he was in great pain.
An American GI attached to us for liaison purposes came and spoke to me about the situation we found ourselves in, and moved away kneeling by a lorry wheel for shelter. Shortly afterward I saw him slide slowly to the ground his head bleeding on the wheel rim. He was dead. Further down the line, a squadron leader was lying with his foot blown off.
A flight lieutenant assisting him heard another shell and shielded him by throwing himself on top of the wounded man and was killed by shrapnel. Quite close, propped up by another vehicle wheel, was a sergeant also named John with a field dressing over his left eye. He subsequently lost that eye. Later on, along came the wing commander and (he) took a piece of shrapnel in the wrist.
The day was drawing on. The padre came along and told us there was now a gap in the shingle bank and we could move off the beach.
By now I had been joined by my driver corporal, and John (the wounded sergeant) begged to go with us so we helped him into the cab. My front offside tyre was flat and so was my nearside rear. The drag of the front tyre pulled us to the right. It was impossible to turn left off the beach, so assisted by the corporal I drove past the exit and described a wide circle to the right and with the expenditure of a lot of sweat came back to the exit just managing to straighten the wheel to get us on the road.
About a hundred yards off the beach in a protected sunken road, we stopped in front of a house. We put the wounded in the garden of the house and tried to make them comfortable. It was obvious that we were not moving far until morning, and the evening was approaching. There was no question of going further as yet, so I now busied myself trying to help some of our wounded.
Personnel were gathering in twos and threes and odd vehicles joined us as the evening wore on. Some American medics paid a visit on their way through, and helped with dressings and sulphur and penicillin which was unknown to us at the time. Our own medical staff were still fully stretched elsewhere. A Scot in the unit told us how he got into deep water and was actually in danger of drowning.
Whilst struggling in the water hundreds of French franc notes floated by and he actually grabbed some of them. He stated his intention of keeping those notes for the rest of his life and showed us the still damp notes. I bet he dined out on that one for years and it is a perfectly true story. Stranger things happened on that day in and out of the water.
We huddled by the garden wall all night. I suppose we slept on and off, the day had been endless. I had no sense of time, things just happened. It took all night to gather the unit together and account for everyone. During the night the front moved slowly inland and by morning we were over a mile behind the action.