Sergeant Wrake's story
Sergeant Lee Wrake enlisted in the Royal Air Force when he was 19 years old. When the Second World War started, he was still in his teens but he knew that sooner or later he would have to enlist and so he volunteered. Because he was training to be a mechanic when he enlisted, he was accepted into the Royal Air Force as a mechanic.
He joined up at Blackpool and after his basic training he said he was sent to many different places.
He said that he did not know anything at all about D-Day but this is not too surprising since it was top secret. He underwent a course on waterproofing vehicles, something which was absolutely necessary for landing them from Landing Craft onto beaches. Once he had waterproofed a vehicle, it was driven through what he referred to as a big bath. If it emerged with the engine still running, it was clear that a proper waterproofing job had been carried out. This, he states, was “more or less our training for D-Day”.
Immediately prior to D-Day, he went with his unit to Christchurch (Dorset), where they remained for a while. It was presumably a “closed camp” similar to that at Sopley (Hampshire), where 21 Base Defence Sector were based prior to embarking. From Christchurch, they proceeded to the coast for embarkation and stopped “at the far end of Chesil beach” for a food break. He then said that they put all of their vehicles on to a “small landing barge” – presumed to have been in Portland harbour with 21 Base Defence Sector. Even at this stage, he had absolutely no idea what was happening or where they were going. Also, he and his comrades did not know that the other vehicles were radar vehicles.
Sergeant Wrake’s vehicle was the last vehicle to be loaded on to the Landing Craft and therefore was the first one to leave once the Landing Craft beached at Omaha. As they beached, he heard someone shout “right, off, off, off” and as he was leaving the Landing Craft, there was a loud bang and its ramp which was used for getting on to the beach hit a mine and blew right off. Despite this, his vehicle was able to keep going and as luck would have it, reached the top of the beach. However, it was also his job to ensure that all of the vehicles were on shore and in order to be able to do that, his big recovery vehicle was to be used to pull trucks onto the shore if they got waterlogged, stuck or broken down. Even then, he had no idea what the trucks contained and only discovered later that they were packed (with) radar.
The wind had died down but it had been rough before that and they could not see very much because the landing craft that they were in was small. The barges, as Sgt Wrake called them, had flat bottoms and the wind blew them around so that there was not much control over them.
Even after they had landed, he did not know which beach they had landed on – he found out later that it was Omaha beach.
There were quite a few people in the water, not only from their vehicles but from other vehicles as well. These troops in the water were trying to swim but could not do so because of all the kit they were carrying. Some managed to struggle ashore. His memory of the trip from Landing Craft to the beach was of Jeeps floating about with their rear ends sticking out of the water. He thought that (they) ought to have sunk but for some reason which he could not fathom, they did not.
He spoke of one member of his crew being in the water and wounded. He asked him where he had been hit and was told “in the stomach”. As he tried to help the man ashore, the man yelled in agony and told Lee Wrake to leave him to drown. Regardless of this, Sgt Wrake asked an American GI nearby to help get the man onto a tank in order to get him to the shore, which he did.
Inevitably it seems, some vehicles did indeed become stuck for a number of reasons, and one such example was mentioned by Sgt Wrake of the cable being broken which was being used to tow it further up the beach.
After he had managed to get his vehicle to the top of the beach, something shattered his dashboard and fractured the oil feed pipe which put the vehicle out of action. It was at the same spot that he was wounded in the chest but whether it was by the same shell which took out his vehicle or by a different one he cannot recall. He said that he had never felt pain like it and stated clearly that it was because the shrapnel which caused the wound was red hot. When this piece of shrapnel cooled down the pain eased a little.
Nothing more is mentioned of Omaha beach after this event and he must have been one of the wounded who were evacuated back to England. After recuperation of unknown length, he was posted to Morecambe (Lancashire), where, on a pay parade, he met the man he mentioned previously who he had helped out of the sea and another one who he had also had a hand in saving. He did not know the name of the man with the stomach wound but he does name a Corporal Gold, a Scot, who he says lost an eye.