Jack H Oakley 49th West Riding (Polar Bear) Division
Mulberry harbor, D-DAY+4 (D-DAY+6)
When I got back to the Dog Track I found out that our orders had been given. We were to move out tomorrow, June 8th.
Next day we all marched with all our kit to what I think was a huge warehouse to bide our time for the next step. About mid-day we were marched to the dock side and boarded a ship. We went on deck to watch all our vehicles and those of other units being loaded. Most of us were more or less preoccupied with our own thoughts. What were we going into? What would happen when we got there etc., etc. It seemed a rather strange situation whit the life in London going on all around us without much attention being paid to us and what with all the activity going on at the dockside. I felt somewhat disorientated, difficult to take it all in. Eventually the ship was under way and there was nothing else to do then to line the rails for a last look at England and home. Sending up a cheer to a lot of girls in white aprons, all waving from the many windows of a Riverside factory.
Next morning, June 9th I awoke to feel the motion of the ship indicating that we were well out to the sea. After a wash and a shave and breakfast and going up to the deck I was surprised to find that we were somewhere in the region of Dover as the white cliffs could be seen. The ship plodded on all day until the rendezvous was reached by which time it was late in the evening and news circulated that another night was to be spent on board. I was glad of this, for while still on board, I was still in England.
In the morning of June 10th we could see the dim outline of the coast and could hear the rumble of gunfire and that precipitated the dormant fears of what we might expect on the beach. News was that the invasion was going well but that the bridgehead was not all that large and the beaches were well within range of the German guns. Positive news was scanty and the imagination of the unknown terrors to which we were entering conjured up some terrifying pictures.
The ship was now slowly approaching the beach area and the level of shipping activity, ahead and all around us was increasing. Strange craft of all shapes and sizes including tugs which were towing huge concrete structures. We had not the faintest idea what these were but the general idea was that they were floating dry docks. They were of coarse the Mulberry harbor sections. We anchored about a mile offshore and could see the beaches quite clearly. I think that everyone then began to realize the enormity of the operation. The beach a hive of activity, vehicles going inland and figures busy about the beaches doing whatever jobs they were supposed to be doing. There were anchored crafts on the sea from which various small landing vessels were going back and forth. To our right, left or rear we could see nothing of the horizon. No dividing line of sea and sky - just ships. Each of the anchored ships were covered in a sea of Khaki, all troops like ourselves waiting to be taken off.
On the beach was an Aldis signaling lamp sending out messages seaward. The messages were just numbers and I assumed that this were the directions for who was to make ready to get off and be landed. Whilst waiting, our fear had departed for there were no shells, bombs or bullets on the beach. At odd times there were explosions on the beach, but these were due to engineers blowing up mines or other beach obstacles.
Suddenly there was an enormous explosion out at sea, like great Iron doors being slammed. Looking towards the source of these we could make out the outlines of a battleship which was firing inland. This was going on for quite some time and although the noise was frightening, the idea of what damage it would do to the Jerries was comforting to us.
News from the bridgehead was that forward troops were fighting in the region of Tilly-sure-Seules. We continued to wait and observe. There was a sense of unreality. We were like spectators at a monumental 'show'. The weather contributed to this. It was very hot and some of the chaps actually had their shirts off, sunbathing. Deep down, everyone was very grateful that we were going to land on the beach and not be subject to any of the horrors that were in our minds and had been suffered by those in the initial landings.
Late in the afternoon of June 12th. an American landing barge came alongside to take us off. It was another fine day and shortly the vehicles were being winced up from below to be deposited in the landing barge. The personnel of each vehicle had to go with the same barge. We had to scramble down the side of the ship on great scrambling nets hung over the side. Not exactly an easy journey. There was a light swell and the ship and the barge did not rise and fall in unison.
Before getting on to the barge, some members of the Pioneer Corps came on board. We called them the 'Pick and Shovel Brigade' and there job was to assist in the loading of the vehicles. They were not short of a few stories to relate about the horrors on the beach and to be found when we landed. Terrible tales of German dead in pillboxes etc. They seemed to take a delight in regaling us with these tales and it didn't do much for our morale. We were 'green' troops and they after all had been there for some days it seemed.
Once loading was completed we headed for the shore and I felt that my last link with England had been severed. That ship was still a bit of England and now we had left it behind.
The American commander got fairly close to the beach but then stopped and anchored, saying that the water was to deep and that it would be better to wait for a while and let the tide recede. Chang decided to put his Tommy cooker to the test and brewed up a cup of tea. The whole thing struck me as being somewhat ridiculous. This was the invasion, and here anchored of the beach Chang was brewing a cup of tea of all things.
The dead German soldier
The weather here was quite fine and although some shelling and mortaring went on at various intervals, none of it was in our direction. Because of the fine hot weather, almost tropical, the flies and bluebottles were a great nuisance for there were several dead animal carcases about including this time some dead Germans. One of the German bodies was quite close to us and we thought he was responsible for the worst of the smell. Across the field there was a large house or chateau which a couple of us decided was worth investigating. We found it to be systematically looted, no doubt by both sides and it was sad to see the owners possessions scattered about the floor and walked over by others to the extent that there was not much floor space to be seen. On returning to our base we passed this dead Jerry and studied him for a bit. He was an officer and a big strapping blond fellow but he had turned quite black. We decided to go and get some help and bury him and returned to do so. We dug a hole adjacent to his body and had not get vvery far before we unearthed an unexploded mortar bomb. That put an end to any further digging and it was then a case of getting him into the hole. There was absolutly nothing in his pockets to give any idea of identification and then we thought that in moving the body, it might be booby trapped. With this in mind we found a long piece of cable from a telegraph wire, strapped it around his boots, took off about 50 yards and all gave a great heave. It worked quite well and he ended up in this shallow grave which we covered and stuck a piece of wood at the head with the legend "Unknown German" "Mortar bomb may be at head". We then left, for in disturbing him, the smell was worse than ever, and remained with us - with a vengeance.