When news happens get involved. Send your pictures, views and video to us by text and email
HEROES OF D-DAY: John Stone
Updated 4:18pm Friday 30th May 2014 in News
Next Friday marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day-a day that changed the outcome of the Second World War and the course of history.
Ten years ago we spoke to many of the heroes of D-Day to mark the 60th anniversary celebrations. Many have sadly passed away in the intervening years. But their legacy lives on.
Without exception, each one said it was simply a job that had to be done. None thought themselves a hero. We beg to differ.
Starting today and throughout next week we will be re-telling their remarkable stories in their own humble words.
John Stone, from Preston, was among three army mine experts who uncovered vital information under the noses of German sentries on a secret mission to the Normandy beaches, which changed the timing of the first D-Day landings.
The former Weymouth Grammar School boy was awarded the Military Cross for 'exemplary gallantry'
This is the story of the reconnaissance mission he undertook that changed the timing of D-Day and ultimately the course of the Second World War.
Sapper Lieutenant Stone passed away at the age of 89 on the day before Armistice Day 2012 with his family by his side.
The night-time reconnaissance mission by three army mine experts changed the timing of the first D-Day landings from high tide to low tide, and saved many landing craft from being blown up by anti-tank mines.
Sapper Lieutenant John Stone - a former Weymouth Grammar School boy - was one of them.
Lieutenant Stone, alongside a sergeant and a corporal, crept up the Normandy beaches to within 40 yards of sentries and a beach patrol to inspect new defences which had been installed all along the French coast under the orders of Field Marshall Rommel.
The three men formed one of the four groups of three sent under top secret orders from Churchill to recce the French coast. But they were the only ones to succeed.
The vital information which they brought back to General Montgomery undoubtedly saved many lives on the beaches and helped considerably towards the success of the Normandy landings - and it won Lt Stone the Military Cross.
Here's a picture of John Stone getting his medal from Montgomery.
Mr Stone recalled that he had only volunteered for the job by accident.
“I had just been drafted back from the Middle East and my officer in command asked for volunteers for a job. We weren't told what it was for and as we were in England I didn't think it could be anything very much.
“I was not getting on very well with my OC who was new and I thought what the hell, I will get away from him if I volunteer - so I did, along with a sergeant and a corporal from my company.
We were taken to Dover Castle along with three other groups of three for two weeks' training with the Royal Marine commandos and various tide experts.
“It turned out that an aircraft had taken some low oblique photographs of the French beaches, which were causing the Allied chiefs concern.
“The photographs were the first taken for a year as all other low level reconnaissance aircraft attempting to do this had been shot down.
“The pictures showed poles sticking up three to four metres out of the sand with black blobs on top.
“These had been put there during the last year and we didn't know about them.
“It was accepted that D-Day was being timed for high tide and it was intelligently assumed that the black blobs were mines of some sort. The question was what sort of device were they and how far apart.
“This worried the General Staff a great deal and Churchill said to send a recce to find out.
“While we were at Dover we received a telegram from Churchill saying it was vital we got it done by two weeks before D-Day.”
Here's a picture of the mines:
The four groups were each to be taken by motor torpedo boat (MTB) to a different place on the French coast from Calais to Normandy.
While the MTB stayed 'deadships' offshore, the engineers together with a dozen commandoes would make their way ashore in a silent Dory motor boat and finally in a rubber dinghy.
The three men would slowly creep up the beach avoiding mines to inspect the defences.
“One of the things we had to do was to find out whether they were magnetic or not,” said Mr Stone. “We were given a piece of string attached to a strong magnet and a wood staple and the idea was that we should attach the staple to the mine and pull the string through it until the magnet touched the mine.
It was laughable really, and it never worked out like that. The recce teams had only four moonless nights to do the job.
“The first was too rough and they didn't go, but on the second the four MTBs sailed.
“We had not been told where the D-Day landings were going to be, but just before we sailed we were told that they would be to the west. I knew then that I was the one who was going to the actual landing beaches, and as it turned out we landed five miles from the D-Day beaches.
“As long as one group got back that was all that mattered because the German defences were the same all along the coast.
“It did not all go to plan, however. When we got into our dinghy it capsized in five feet of water and we had to wade the rest of the way.
“We started walking up the beach and the idea was that the sergeant went in front with a mine detector, I went second and the corporal went at the back with a lifeline for us to find our way back down again. But before we got to the poles the lifelines ran out. We saw sentries patrolling and we got to within about 40 yards of one smoking a cigarette.
“A searchlight passed over us several times, but they never saw us. At one point a beach patrol went by with half a dozen chaps, but we were lying doggo and they didn't see us.
“We could see the posts in the light of the searchlight but then it went out and we were in total blackness. We went on slowly up the beach in darkness until the sergeant hit one of the poles with the mine detector. We knew then that it could not be a magnetic mine because it would have gone off.
“In fact it turned out to be an antitank Teller Mk 42 mine, which we knew very well from the desert.
“In other words, if they had gone in at high tide it would have knocked the bottom of the landing craft out and sunk them before they got to the beaches.
We paced out the poles and went back to the MTB. It was clearly a top priority job. While we were over there, lots of planes were going over on a diversionary raid inland. They were dropping bombs galore.”
Lt Stone and the sergeant were separated on the MTB so that the army would get an independent story from each of them.
The team had been on the Normandy beach for two hours - three weeks before D-Day. Their operation had started at last light in Dover and ended when they returned at 7.30 the following morning.
“When we returned to Dover we were not even allowed to wash. We were given a rattling good breakfast by some Wrens and then put in a staff car. By 10.30 that morning we were in Whitehall being interviewed by Montgomery's Chief of Staff and Monty himself. I was told that we were the only group to come back with the information.
“One lot could not land because it was too rough and the other two were captured by the Germans. We had been given morphia tablets to take because they anticipated us being tortured if we were caught, although I understand that did not happen.
“Later Monty's chief-of- staff asked me if I had known where the landings were going to be. I told him I had and he pulled a long face. I think there was a worry that the captured men might give the game away. But as it turned out the Germans did not realise the significance of what they had been doing.
“As I understand it, the information we brought back led to the timing of D-Day being changed from high to low water. And our measurements showed that our tanks were able to go between the poles on the beach.”
Lt Stone's unit subsequently received a congratulatory telegram from Churchill and Lt Stone was awarded the MC - 'all for something I never meant to volunteer for'.
“If I had known what I was letting myself in for, I never would have volunteered,” he said.
Weymouth and Portland in 1944.
Comments are closed on this article.