“It is not something you will ever forget”
Those are the words of a North Baddesley pensioner, Denys Hunter, who took part in D-Day.
It is 70 years to the day that the Allies turned the tide of the war with the Normandy landings, and 90-year-old Denys can remember events in detail.
In peacetime, Denys, from Nelson, in Lancashire, had worked as an illustrator and in cinema advertising before joining the Hertfordshire Yeomanry in 1942, aged 18.
In the run-up to D-Day, fear didn’t seem to enter Denys’s mind. He said: “I had never been on the sea. It was a great thing. I was excited about taking part in D-Day.
“You have got to remember things were very different.We were young when it happened. I was just 20 and it was quite an adventure for me.”
That day, high winds caused havoc and the sea was choppy and the sound of blasts of artillery pounding the beach were all Denys could hear as his landing craft approached the beach.
Gold (between Le Hamel and Ver sur Mer) was the central one of the five D-Day beaches.
A higher-than-expected tide meant that German mines and anti-tank obstacles were still submerged as the first British landing craft hit the beach. This could have halted the assault in its tracks had not accurate naval and aerial bombardment neutralised the German defenders.
Denys, usually a tank gunner, went ashore on foot, equipped with a radio, to spot targets for the artillery and tanks to fire at.
He said: “There was quite a lot of resistance. We had to just get across the beach to find cover. All I could think about was getting across while bullets whizzed over my head.
“There was a machine gun firing from a window of a house, and I saw them and called in artillery to knock down the house.
“There was a break in the wall, and we made for that.”
Allied casualties at Gold Beach were estimated at about 1,000 and for Denys, the subject of death was understandably an uncomfortable one.
He had a lucky escape on the beach as a bullet went through his uniform without hitting him.
“It’s just luck really. You never know what could happen to you. I lost friends in the war when it could have been me.
“We just carried on. We could not sit and moan about it,” he said.
By midday most of the beach was in British hands.
After D-Day, Denys was involved in several major battles, including the liberation of Antwerp and Brussels, Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge.
After the war, Denys returned to his sweetheart, Joan, who he met at a dance at Crosfield Hall in May, 1944. They married at Romsey Abbey in 1946. The couple lived in Romsey and went on to have five children, 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Today, Denys will be in Normandy with other veterans to salute their fallen comrades and remember the day that changed history.