A 93-year-old Amberley resident looks back 70 years to witnessing the carnage on Sword Beach in Normandy and appeals for other D-Day war veterans to come forward for a reunion.
Platoon commander of a Royal Engineer field company, Major Reginald Trench, talked to the County Times about the allied army invasion of Normandy, northern France in 1944 World War II and said the memories are ‘still vivid’.
The location of the beach was kept under wraps until Major Trench, who was only 23 at the time, and his fellow soldiers bordered the ship.
“The invasion was postponed for 24 hours because of the weather. Then Eisenhower took a risk and finally decided to go,” he said.
“We anchored five miles off the coast. We had breakfast and we were all feeling a bit shaky, of course - wondering what the day would bring.”
More than 156,000 British, American, Canadian and other soldiers took part in what has become known as the largest military operation in history - spanning Sword, Gold, Juno, Utah and Omaha beaches.
“I jumped into the landing craft and the water was quite rough. When we started the run in all hell broke out because we had three battleships, two cruisers and ten destroyers firing onto the beach to throttle their defences.”
Carrying a P.38 pistol, Major Trench and his team approached the shore in the landing craft where he could see smoke emanating from burning buildings. In the water stood tall three-legged stands with German teller mines positioned on top, in a bid to take out the vessels on collision.
“We got through these and we then saw the beach.
“There was a real shambles of burning tanks that had come in ten minutes before. One or two landing crafts had been rammed and were skewed across the beach. There was firing going on. It was an organised shambles, really.”
Finally onto the sand, Major Trench and sappers advanced with their weapons and mine detectors at the ready.
“German machine guns were shooting down the beach. We got through it and the infantry got right up into the sand dunes and started attacking the buildings.”
Meeting up with another Royal Engineer Officer, John Hanson, who oversaw the Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVRE) tanks. Mr Hanson fired at a pillbox that was targeting the East Yorkshire soldiers. Major Trench said he recalled the pillbox exploding and seeing the frightened East European man who had been manning it.
“By 9am we were clear of the beach. There were suffering casualties and a lot of mortar attacks and heavy shelling that went on and on.”
Onto the Normandy countryside, Major Trench made it to his first objective - a gunning placement.
“On the road there was a British carrier with two chaps in it they were burnt to a cinder, it was not a nice sight at all. Suddenly there was heavy mortaring, but they got that under control.”
In the history books it is recorded that there were low casualties on Sword Beach, but Major Trench remembers it far differently.
“I’m afraid the casualties were pretty heavy really. There were 65 killed and 141 wounded by 4pm.”
On returning to Sword Beach many years later, he said it was very ‘emotional’.
“You could see all the places where something nasty happened.”
Now retired in Amberley, Major Trench said he would like for other D-Day veterans who fought on Sword Beach to get in touch.
If you were there or know someone who was, contact us at the County Times to arrange a meet.