John Henry Pank - email from his son, John Pank, dated 27th November 2017
I have been reading some of the accounts of the RAF men who landed on Omaha beach on 6th June 1944.
My father, John Henry Pank, was in the RAF and was one of these men. Unfortunately he passed away 12 years ago. Like a lot of men who fought during the war my dad never told us much about the war. If we pressed him on certain points such as ” Did you ever kill a German?” He would stay quiet. My mother would tell us to be quiet. However, as I got older he told me more about it.
I understand he was initially based near Blackpool whilst he did his initial training. He was also a driver of what I understand was a four-ton Austin which towed a trailer containing radar. I got the impression that he was quite attached to the vehicle. (I presume if it got him over the beach and to his destination without any injury, then it would have been his best friend!) He told me that for several weeks prior to D-Day they practised driving through water, and they spent hours waterproofing the engines using grease etc.
I cannot remember where he said he had set sail from but it was in the south of the country. The weather had been bad and the sea was rough and several were seasick. They were on a landing craft. He apparently was going to be one of the last to be loaded which meant he would be first off the landing craft on arrival in France. It would appear that the powers that be had a change of plan and decided he should be last off. As the landing craft neared the beach, there was an explosion at the front and I understand the first vehicle was badly damaged. Reading between the lines I don’t believe the driver survived. He said that he eventually managed to drive off and up the beach. It would appear that there was no exit from the beach as he had been told, and he said it had been a cock-up. When I asked him what he then did, he said he drove to the cliff base, went under the truck, lit a fag and carved his name in a breakwater. I am sure he told us this to avoid having to describe things any further. He did once tell me that the sea edge was red with blood.
I visited Omaha beach some time ago and brought back a small pot of sand which I gave to him. It brought a tear to his eye as he went deep into thought, and I told him I thought he was brave.
“I wasn’t brave, I didn’t have a choice,” he said.
I had also visited one of the museums in the area. There was a photo of a similar set up to the one that my dad had driven. There were several people on the photo posing for the shot with aircraft flying over. I asked if he could be one of the people on the pic. (It was slightly blurred as it was a photo taken of a photo.) He said no as soon as I showed him, but he only gave it a quick glance and didn’t really want to look at it.
I was chatting to one of dad’s cousins at his funeral; he told me that my father was a very brave man. He told me that on the night of D-day, Dad was in his bivvy at the top of the cliff, together with one of his colleagues, when a German aircraft shot through the tent killing his colleague. My dad received a gash to his chin. He always told us that the scar which it left had been caused by a starting handle of a truck hitting him in the chin when the engine had backfired; he had never mentioned the shooting incident. However, my brother had been told a different version of this incident by some other relative. They said that on the first night Dad and his truck were still on the beach together with another RAF vehicle and crew. During the night, a shell hit the other vehicle which killed the crew. Who knows?
I would be interested to know more about the role my Dad played during this time. I have got a copy of his service record which I will scan and send to you. I will also send the aforementioned image.