Memories of D-Day
Philip Bond is one of the survivors of the D-day landing in Normandy. Nationwide tributes were paid to the heroic participants in this historic event on Sunday, 6th June, its sixtieth anniversary.
Phil was called up for army service in 1943, and after completing his primary training at Lincoln, he was attached to the Royal Engineers. He was posted to Gibraltar Barracks, Aldershot, and to other training centres before being sent to Boxhill, Surrey, now a well-known beauty spot, in preparation for a planned invasion of Northern France. It was at Boxhill that Phil joined the 629 (9th) Field Squadron, experienced Sappers who had served in the North Africa campaign. The squadron’s beach training was undertaken at Brancaster, Norfolk, where the terrain resembles the Normandy beaches. One part of their training was the blowing up of beach obstacles and another was the laying of firm tracks (made up of a combination of wire and hessian) to prevent wheeled vehicles from sinking in the sand. They were also trained in the use of mine-detectors and in the safe disposal of land-mines.
On 5th June, 1944, all units were geared up for the invasion of the French coast, only to be ordered to stand by for another twenty-four hours because of inclement weather. On 6th June hundreds of ships carrying the invading force left our southern shores, heaving and rolling in the aftermath of a severe storm. On board, reveille sounded at 4am, followed by a 4.30 breakfast. At 5 o’clock the Sappers climbed into the Landing Craft Assaults (LCA’s) which were then lowered into the water. It was bitterly cold and all but the most hardy were sick. The LCA’s reached the shore at 8 o’clock, to be met with a hail of hostile machine-gun fire. A group of survivors waded into the water and cleared beach obstacles of mines and live shells – a dangerous job, but successfully accomplished.
Phil was among the survivors who dug protective trenches near the beach at Hermanville, in the face of occasional air attacks. Heavy storms raged on subsequent days and torrential rain would make some of their tasks difficult to perform. The Sappers relied on the infantry to move ahead and make it safe for them to carry out their duties.
Within a month the strategic town of Caen had been captured and the Sappers were ordered to clear the roads through the town. In July, 1944, the Sappers began a trek right across Europe, traversing France, Belgium, Holland and Belgium again, before moving towards the Rhine. They worked on repairs to roads which had been damaged in the skirmishes between the opposing armies and they filled in bomb craters. They were responsible, too, for the maintenance of water supplies and for the repair or construction of Bailey bridges across rivers. They were deeply involved in the liberation of France, Holland and Belgium. Phil remembers with affection the camaraderie that existed among the men in his troop and the devastating feeling when some comrades were killed or wounded.