D-Day the last of the liberators was written by Robin Savage. It is a collection of portraits of some of the last surviving veterans of the D-Day landings 70 years ago. This book briefly records the experiences of these brave men and women whose courage and strength helped in the liberation of France from the hands of Nazi Germany.
This book was sent to me for review by Casemate Publishing
and was published by Helion and Company and consists of 96 pages of high quality gloss paper. There are 33 veterans covered and each of the veterans in this book has two pages dedicated to them, one page containing a brief insight with their involvement on D-Day and their experiences during their time out on the beaches and fields of France. The other page is an A4 sized portrait usually of that individual in front of where they landed, worked or served to aid in the liberation of France.
As a guide to the contents of the book I have chosen the experiences of three of the veterans and relayed verbatim their memories from three different areas of the book.
Number one – Vera Hay, Légion d’honneur.
QA Nurse. 79th British Military General Hospital. Le Château de Beaussy, near Bayeux
A few days after the landings the grounds of the Château de Beaussy became a field hospital for British troops. It had a critical role, as major surgeries were often performed there to make a casualty stable enough to survive the trip back to England.
Vera trained as a nurse in Hammersmith Hospital and was one month into a four-year contract when war broke out. She endured the horrors of the blitz whilst training and had no doubt in her mind that she wanted to help fighting troops as soon as she could. So when she finished her training in August 1943 she volunteered for the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and eventually found herself landing on Gold Beach about a week after D-Day. She was one of the first British nurses to land in Normandy.
The sixteen-kilometre journey from the beach to the Château took about twenty-four hours to complete, as they had to avoid the pockets of German resistance on the way. As a Junior Sister she was part of a team that treated up to 200 casualties per day, prioritising the cases as they arrived, the more serious being rushed straight through to surgery.
It was exhausting work. There was no on/off rotation; everyone was required to work round the clock, sleeping when they had the chance, usually for no more than one or two hours at a time. And when the rare opportunity for rest cane, Vera had to find comfort in a ditch until eventually tented accommodation was provided for the sisters.
This photograph was taken on the 6th June 2013. It was the first time Vera had been back to the Château since the war.
Number Two – James Baker, DSM.
544 Assault Flotilla, Royal Marines, Bernières-sur-Mer
James was in the second wave of troops to assault Juno Beach on D-Day. His job was to lead the troops in his landing craft – men from the French–Canadian Le Régiment de la Chaudière – in the attack.
As he neared the beach he gave a thumbs-up to his friend Corporal Walker in the neighbouring landing craft. As he did so, Walker’s craft lifted on the crest of a wave and, to his horror, James saw three anti-tank mines attached to an obstacle protruding from the water under the bow of the craft. It struck the mines and the resulting explosion not only destroyed Walker’s boat but caused James’ boat to sink too.
He swam ashore with his men and as he reached the beach, sodden and afraid, his only thought was to carry out his duties and lead the Chaudières into battle. Leading from the front, he stepped over the bodies of the Canadians cut down only moments ago by the hail of enemy fire he was now facing and got them to the top of the beach.
Their numbers were rapidly depleting. James knew they had to silence a bunker that had accounted for many of the casualties on the beach. He and his sergeant made their way through the barbed wire, approached the emplacement and handled the job with brutal efficiency using the sergeant’s flamethrower.
They then moved on to the town square of Bernières, less than a kilometre from the beach, and upon arrival their next job was to deal with a sniper in the church tower. Again, James and his Chaudières completed the task with similar effectiveness.
About an hour later, while standing by the church door in the photograph, James was severely wounded by a mortar from a Nebelwerfer, a six-barrelled German weapon that would strike fear into the hearts of men just by the sound it made alone. Unconscious and on his own, it was pure chance that two medics happened to pass by soon afterwards. His tongue was blocking his airway and unable to prise his jaws apart, the medics had no choice but to take James’ bayonet and smash his front teeth out in order to save his life.
James was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his actions on D-Day.
Number Three – William Bray
7th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, Drop Zone N, Ranville
This photograph was taken on 6th June 2013 – exactly sixty-nine years to the day after William had parachuted into the fields behind him to play his part in the liberation of Nazi occupied Europe.
Unlike many others that night, William had a good drop; he landed in the correct place, unhurt and with company. Other parachutists were far less fortunate. Many were scattered far and wide from their drop zones, several were injured upon landing and some even lost their lives as they drowned after landing in fields flooded by the Germans as part of their anti-invasion defences.
William also had no trouble finding his rendezvous point. On his way there, he remembers looking up and seeing tracer bullets from German anti-aircraft fire criss-crossing the night sky as more aircraft made their way into the drop zone.
Upon arrival, he found about twenty other Paras from his battalion were already there. They could hear gunfire coming from the bridges over the Caen Canal and the River Orne as the Ox and Bucks were making their daring assault, so they knew in which direction to head.
William got to the bridges without incident and was immediately ordered over to the village of Bénouville, on the west side, to take part in their defence against the expected German counter-attack. As daylight came the onslaught began and William spent the entire day embroiled in very bitter fighting, often hand-to-hand. He was eventually pulled back to the eastern side of the bridges later that night for some rest.
Four days later, the 7th Parachute Battalion had moved on to a new location near Ranville and William was ordered to dig-in. He had just finished digging his foxhole when mortar bombs began dropping on the position. Caught out in the open, he ran to his hole but someone had beaten him to it, denying him the cover he needed. A bomb burst nearby and William was wounded by pieces of shrapnel. However the wounds were minor enough to keep him in France and he continued to fight throughout the remainder of the Normandy Campaign.
I was really happy when I was given this book to review as I was thrilled to see veterans get recognition for their bravery and services to the country in a book that also had pictures of those involved in the places where they operated.
But when I read the book I was disappointed by how little information was given on each veteran and their experiences, which was written in third person. I don’t believe that all the veterans could have only one page written about them as their experiences with training running up to D-Day are important as well as their thoughts and feelings running up to departure day. The author also mentions they are “Unique stories”. A few of the veterans I speak with during my re-enactments do not like the word story as it implies something that is made up. One veteran even said to my friend and I that “It’s not a story as I was there; these are my experiences during my time in war”. In closure I would’ve liked each veteran to have all of their experiences written in their own words, not in third person as I feel a lot of information has been missed out.