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Heroes of D-Day: Denis Over
Updated 10:03am Tuesday 10th June 2014 in D-Day Articles
Denis Over landed on Juno Beach as a soldier of the fifth battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment.
Denis Over, aged 92, now resides in Broadmayne. He was 22 years of age when he took part in the Normandy Landings. He and others landed on the beach behind the Canadian assault troops as part of the No 8 Beach Group whose job it was to organise the beach for the landing of stores and further troops.
After the Canadians landed and moved forward, Denis’s responsibilities included mopping up resilience met by German defenders in two pill boxes. He said: “Prior to embarkation I spent several quiet pleasant weeks in camp on Southampton Common in a wood of small sweet chestnut and beech trees.
“We were blessed with fine sunny weather and as the trees burst into leaf the surrounding countryside looked very beautiful, and the blackbirds and the nightingales sang.
“On an evening stroll as the sun sank lower in the sky, one would feel the peace and tranquillity of it all, and then reflect that a few weeks hence all hell would be let loose and men would be killing and maiming each other, and we would be in it.
“For the first time for most of us we would realise just how horrible war is. It was a sobering thought.”
“We all slept on the mess decks and I lay on a table with a couple of blankets under me to relieve some of the hardness and had about three hours of more or less sound sleep.
“We were awakened by a voice over the loudspeaker system crying, ‘Wakey, wakey, rise and shine. It’s four o’clock and a fine morning and you mustn’t be late for the party.’ “All was soon bustling with activity, and washed and shaved I went along for breakfast. It was still pretty dark, a gale was blowing and the sea looked pretty rough.
“Away to the horizon heavy-ish flak could be seen and we knew the Allied bombers were doing their job. After a very good breakfast we went back to await our call over the loudspeaker to proceed to boat stations.
“At last our call came – ‘Serial 1497 go to your boat stations now.’ We all trooped up the companionway and up to the top deck opposite our landing craft assault (LCA). The Canadians piled in first and we filled up the back.
“Finally all were in and we were lowered to the water. Immediately we began bobbing up and down on the swell which made it difficult for the crew of Marines to release the heavy pulley block from the rings in the boat, but soon we nosed away from the tall side of the Landing Craft Infantry and joined the other craft of the flotilla.
“It was broad daylight now but the sky was overcast and the clouds were low. The sea was very choppy and our flat-bottomed craft was tossed about like a cork. In spite of two anti-sea-sickness tablets taken before breakfast, three or four men were sick and I didn’t feel too great myself though I never for one moment felt like getting rid of my eggs and bacon.
“As we made our way towards the shore we passed Landing Craft Tanks (LCT) with self propelled guns firing away. Rockets also were being hurled at the beach defences, and further away destroyers were pumping shells into the enemy.
“Our aircraft did not appear to be very much in evidence though they could quite often be heard above the clouds. The main job had been done before.
“As we neared the shore we saw on the left a village with a church spire, then opposite us another one with its church spire rather holed, then a belt of trees, some flat country and a third township away on our right.
“The villages were St Aubin on the left, Bernières-sur-Mer opposite and Courseulles on the right.
“I knew from the briefing that there was a concave sea wall at Bernier with a bend back in it opposite one of the groins which was to be C Company HQ, we being Beach Company for White Beach. Red Beach was on our left and Green Beach on our right.
“My LCA touched down directly opposite that spot which I thought was pretty good work on the part of the Navy. The bombardment had started a few fires which were burning brightly with thick smoke rising above each.
“There were quite a number of LCTs and LCAs along the shore line, most of the latter having been wrecked on the beach obstacles.
“Where I landed these consisted of a line of sleepers stuck in the sand with teller mines on top, and then behind them rows of iron girders about four feet long bolted three together and splayed out so that they stood up on end and presented jagged ends to pierce the bottoms or sides of craft trying to float over them. More than that, they fused shells fixed to many of the girder ends so that a craft only had to touch one and it would explode, blowing a hole in the boat.
“Ours’ stopped with a jerk but I thought we had just beached until I found water rising in the bottom of the craft. Then I realised one of these girders must have pierced the side of the boat. Fortunately there was no shell or else several men would have been killed or wounded.
“By the time the Canadians in front had got out the water was up to our knees and we couldn’t waste time hitching packs on to our backs. I grabbed hold of mine felt for my rifle under the water and picked up two shovels lying in the front. The pack was too heavy though as it was now waterlogged so I had to leave it and get ashore through waste, deep water and over two stranded LCAs.
“Things seemed very quiet on the beach. An occasional bullet from some sniper would crack by but that was all. All along under the sea wall was a terrific crush of Canadians, and on my left as I walked up the 20 odd yards of beach were numbers of them lying prostrate on the sand, one or two attempting to crawl slowly up to the top.
“They had been caught by the cross fire from two pillboxes built into the wall which must have been murderous. The fact that those chaps might be dead or dying didn't seem to register somehow. One saw them and knew they had been hit but I was surprised with what detachment I looked at them.
“The stretcher bearers were busy bringing the wounded to the Beach Dressing Station where they were tended, wrapped in blankets and given cigarettes, and laid out in rows to await evacuation.
“They were very white and shivering, due of course to shock, but partly I expect to the chilliness of the day and the wetting they had got when landing.
“As the sea came up it began to lap around one or two of the still forms furthest out. I asked the stretcher bearers if they were going to be brought in, but no, nothing more could be done for them. After a while the crowd all along under the sea wall disappeared as the beach exit was cleared of the enemy and things began to sort themselves out.”
“War is horrible, and the sights and sounds and smells are things a man in battle takes as they come.
“If he is seemingly indifferent and can laugh and talk with all this round him, it is not that he doesn't care, or that his finer senses become fouled.
“He longs for beauty and peace more than he ever did before, and for the simple things of life, but fortunately he can look on these things and turn away and get on with his job.”