HEROES OF D-DAY: Bob Collins remembers Juno Beach

INTO ACTION: Landing craft and army vehicles on the Normandy beaches

Bob Collins during the Second World War

Bob Collins in 2009

First published in News
Last updated

TOMORROW 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.

We have been re-telling their remarkable stories in their own words.

Bob Collins landed on Juno Beach as a Royal Navy recruit aboard LST 409.

He was the chairman of the Dorset 84 Branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association for many years. He passed away in his home town Bridport in 2011.

This is his story in his words:

It seems everyone wrote to me in the days before D-Day. They knew something was about to happen and that I might not come back.

“On June 4 we heard over the loudspeakers Montgomery’s and Eisenhower’s fond farewells and God speed.

“However, there was of course the well-known 24 hours cancellation owing to bad weather.

“We finally sailed. One raw recruit with no battle experience was unable to swim. Frightened out of his wits at the tender age of 19 he slept with his lifejacket on.

“In the dawn of the morning, just as we were approaching the beaches, you appreciated for the first time just how big the invasion armada was – it was colossal.

“My first sight of Juno Beach was when the hatch of the ship opened and we actually spilled on to the beach.

“We beached at about 10am into the cauldron of bombing, shelling and firing from small arms a little way inland.

“It was two or three hours after the first wave of troops had landed so everyone got ashore all right.

“The beach had been, I imagine, very gallantly taken from the Germans by the first waves of Infantry so that our LST was able to go straight into the right place marked out with white tapes for the tanks to proceed over the sand dunes.

“We were forbidden to go on to the beach area, but we did, just to say we were there.

“There were wounded men being carried down to the ships on stretchers. Other men were directing operations on the beach.

“I remember well a large German gun emplacement which was continually firing out to sea at the ships as its trajectory could not be lowered on to the beach itself, and I suppose the first wave of infantry felt that someone else could deal with it.

“We sustained shrapnel damage in the bow section.

“The intention was, I believe, for the LSTs, which had been specially adapted, to bring back hundreds of wounded.

“But this was not needed on our particular section of Juno beach, so that our first trip was mainly concerned with bringing back only a handful of men, quite a few of whom were dead.

“I was detailed off to guard a wounded German soldier who was to all intents and purposes dead. His head had been blown open but he was actually still alive, though obviously not conscious.

“Some injuries were pretty bad but we had no operating facilities or anything like that – just advanced first aid.

“We did a quick turnaround for our second load-up and I remember this time the tide allowed us to actually go ashore, and we went into the village of either Bernieres or Courseulles, which was quite eerie as there was not a soul in sight.

“We then returned to Tilbury Docks for repairs to the shrapnel damaged bows, and this particular night I do remember well – it was the first night of the German V2 rocket attacks, and no one knew what they were.

“I cannot remember how many trips we made across the Channel but by about the end of July we were back in Devonport Barracks where we were asked if we would like to ‘volunteer’ for one final draft.

“About six of us, thinking that the war was just about over and the draft would be a ‘cushy’ one, did what no one should do – volunteered!

“Seven days special leave later, we were on a troopship to the Far East. But that’s another story.

“Of D-Day, I think having survived, it’s nice to have been a part of it but had I gone ashore two hours earlier I could have had my head blown off. “The one thing uppermost in your mind all the time was survival but afterwards we were all proud to have been part of the operation.”

Marking the 70th D-Day anniversary 

There will be several events held to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Veterans from the Dorset Regiment are encouraged to attend a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day at The Keep Military Museum in Dorchester tomorrow.

The event starts at 10.30am and there will be a parade of military standards.

For more information, call 01305 774226.

There will also be a D-Day memorial service at the US War memorial on Portland tomorrow.

The service in Victoria Gardens will start at 11am.

Meanwhile, wartime heroes of Lyme Regis will be officially honoured by the United States Army in the town’s D-Day celebrations this weekend.

The US Army tribute comes as Lyme prepares to mark the 70th D-Day anniversary, from June 6 to June 8, with flags currently being displayed around the town.

A plaque commissioned by the 16th Infantry Regiment Association to mark its special bond with the town will be unveiled by the Mayor of Lyme Regis, Cllr Sally Holman, at a ceremony at Bell Cliff at 1.15pm on Sunday.

A three-day programme of events has been organised for the D-Day commemorations which will start with an outdoor service on the cliffs at dawn on June 6 and will finish with a full civic march and service on the seafront on Sunday.

And Weymouth’s D-Day picnic is back.

A combination of outdoor family fun, old time music hall songs and military vehicles with a bit of a history lesson thrown in make this an event not to be missed.

Residents are invited to come along and join in a picnic to remember the heroic troops who took part in the landings.

The free event is at the Nothe Gardens tomorrow from 1pm to 3pm.

The picnic will include a display of historic military vehicles, local veterans, music from the era plus lots of great family fun, including a ‘Coronation Trail’.

Families are invited to bring along a picnic and relax and enjoy the music.

Plans are also under way for Weymouth and Portland’s major Armed Forces Day Celebrations, supported by the Ministry of Defence, between June 21 and 27.

This year’s celebrations will honour Britain’s armed forces past, present and future and will feature a major seafront parade, beach assault, bridge-building exercise, military vehicle displays and live band performances.

Cineworld screening

WEYMOUTH's Cineworld will be one of 180 cinemas to screen a live broadcast of a national concert marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

The concert is being put on by the BBC and three major military charities; SSAFA, the Royal British Legion and SkillForce.

The 'Friday Night is Music Night' will take place at the Royal Albert Hall tomorrow and will feature a star-studded cast of performers.

The story of D-Day will be retold through drama and narration.

SSAFA, formerly known as the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association) provides lifelong support to anyone who is currently serving or has ever served in the Royal Navy, British Army or Royal Air Force and their families.

Tickets can be purchased at cineworld.co.uk or direct from the box office on the night. The concert starts at 8pm.

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