Eric was a young man of eighteen and working at Husband’s in Sheffield when he volunteered to join up. He hoped that by doing so, he would be able to choose the unit. He joined the Royal Engineers thinking that this unit would keep him out of serious conflict. Each sapper had to have a trade and Eric elected to be a sapper surveyor. He underwent intensive training at various sites in England learning how to remove mines. His role, after training, was to sanitise beaches and clear them of mines and explosive devices. His unit spent time practising on the south coast and, when training was completed, they were stationed at Southampton Common waiting for the ships to assemble.
Eric’s unit was combined with Canadian groups, including the Winnipeg Rifles and the Chaudiere. The latter group was renowned for hating the English and other Canadian troops more than the Germans. Other units alongside Eric’s were the REME and the Pioneer Corps, the latter having the job of body-bagging any soldier killed in the first wave so as not to put off the soldiers following behind in the next wave.
It took eight days to load the ship before departure. The ship carried 1800 assault troops and it took 18 landing craft three trips to get all the men ashore. The first batch were lowered in the landing craft from the ship’s davits but subsequent landing craft were loaded with men who had to scramble down nets to board them. Many men were killed and injured due to the heavy kit they carried. Seasickness was rife and affected many during the trip to shore in the landing craft. On landing the water was knee deep and Eric carried a rifle, large mine detector and a battery weighing 40 lbs. His equipment was so heavy that he had to dump the battery and pick it up later.
Eric landed on Juno beach. There was a gap between Juno beach and Gold Beach that nobody had known about. Peering over one of the sand dunes they saw three Germans who surrendered. Eric’s unit was being shot at from the side so Eric went to find some back up and brought tanks and bulldozers to fill the gap. One tank fell into a ditch so they covered it with rubble in order to make a better access road. Thirty years later the tank was dug up and is now displayed on a plinth on the road to Graye sur Mer.
Eric sanitised the beach, it took him six weeks. One thousand, seven hundred mines were put into a German pillbox which was then blown up! A mine museum was set up after the war displaying all the different types of mines used at the time.
Our thanks go to Eric for the part he played and for ensuring a better future for all of us