As last week’s 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings was marked across the world, one St Helens veteran told his story of the events surrounding the largest sea and airborne invasion in history. Here, in his own words, Lawrence Cliffe, 94, from Thatto Heath, shares his story of being a 24-year-old driver with the British Infantry Division.
There were 200 electrical detonators under the drivers seat of my vehicle. I wasn’t impressed.
When I sat in the truck in Southampton I noticed the seat had been disturbed and I lifted it up to find them - so I threw them out.
My vehicle was loaded with special explosives, beehives, general wades and the like - the things could blast holes in concrete.
When it was supposed to be loaded onto the LCT craft they put two motorcycles and flamethrowers on the truck - there was also a bridge on top.
Eventually I was loaded on - the LCT was No.319 if I remember rightly, and we went halfway across the Channel for the invasion which was supposed to be on June 5.
It was postponed for 24 hours - we waited overnight before sailing to Normandy.
When the LCT came in to land it turned around slightly and at first I though we were going back but what was actually happening is we were trying to get nearer to the beach which we did.
We started to unload but the shells from the enemy were flopping in the water, both sides, and I thought, ‘we won’t be lucky here’.
Anyway, we came off and I put the thing in four wheel drive.
The exit was more or less blocked with a couple of vehicles, one being the captain’s half-track.
I didn’t look to see if there was a wheel blown off.
I managed to squeeze through this bit of opening.
On the left I could see the holiday villas, as I progressed towards the road there was one of our sappers waiting to direct me where to go and he jumped in the vehicle and guided me to a copse if you like, presumably to get out of sight of the enemy.
When it went dark we moved into a cemetery.
In the following days we were moved again and dug in.
As it happened it wasn’t a very pleasant place because we were constantly being shelled and the enemy could probably see us.
Sometimes between four and quarter-past four in the morning you could hear an engine which sounded to me like a motorcycle and within minutes we were being mortared and this happened every morning we were there.
Consequently we were getting a number of casualties and on one particular morning there was the usual type of thing and as they came away to go to the medical field dressing station this fella said he’d hurt his back. He lifted up his shirt and this comedian type told him: “It’s only a scratch.”
They went on to the dressing station and the officer asked what’s wrong with him.
He lifted his shirt up: “Some scratch,” they said. There was shrapnel stuck in his back.
On a different day, they said: “There’s a doctors house, go and use that.” There was no room downstairs at all - there was a flight of stairs up and a piano on that first floor.
We were waiting for instructions from the infantry headquarters.
And Charlie, this sergeant of ours, was on the piano and we were all singing our heads of and all of a sudden this shell comes through the roof.
They must have thought, ‘the cheeky beggars, singing right near our lines.’ I ran to the top of them stairs and jumped right to the bottom in one go and ran across the road.
There was a very thick wall and I ran through because I thought if a shell comes over again, if it goes before the wall it won’t do me any harm.
I personally think we were lucky to stick it.