This is D-Day.
It commemorates the landing of 160,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy, France in 1944. It was a significant victory in the effort to gain entry into Europe and finally face down the Nazi forces.
This week, I turn my blog post over, posthumously, to my father Thomas King who served during World War Two in the Royal Canadian Navy. He served on the Corvette the Amherst and the Minesweeper Thunder. He wrote an article for my hometown paper in 1992.
Here are a few excerpts:
“I was 20 old and fresh off the farm in Jeannettes Creek, Ontario when I joined the R.C.N.V.R. in October of 1941. The navy was desperate for seamen so they pushed our training and were tough on us. We thought they were cruel, but looking back, I know they had to condition us for the hell we would have to endure.
I made at least 14 crossings on the Amherst and we lost men and ships on every one. On one crossing we were attacked by a wolf pack of 25 submarines. I remember counting seven U-boats on the surface around us at one time. We lost several ships and picked up as many survivors as we could but many times we had to keep moving—right through the men in the water with their arms reaching up to us. When the ship would roll toward the water, we would grab hold of a steel cable and reach out with one arm trying to reach some part of a man or his clothing and pull them on board. I often would see the face of the man I missed by an inch or two when the ship rolled back a second too soon. The water all around us was full of dead sailors, parts of bodies, all types of debris and oil.
Life on a ship was one of monotony with hours of sheer terror thrown in. We ate eggs dated and stamped many months previous to when we would get them but still we thought they were a treat. We had very few fruits or vegetables. I’ll never forget the sea biscuits that refused to soften up no matter how long you soaked them.”
“I took a radar course in 1944 and was assigned to the HMCS Thunder. We swept the channel in preparation for the invasion and was one of 16 minesweepers sent in to sweep the channel before the landings on D-Day. The “Thunder” was assigned to sweep Omaha Beach.”
“I returned home in 1945 after sailing over 40 thousand sea miles. I felt tired and very old in spirit and body. I was changed for the rest of my life”.
There may be some lack of detail because until his later years my dad very rarely spoke about those days. If he did, he would cry. I do remember the story about his losing grasp of a sailor’s hand — he never got over that.
I also remember him saying the sailors loved seeing the dolphins swimming and playing alongside the ship. I wish, now, that I had listened more often, more intently and with more appreciation. I did always know that when people talked about heroes, my sister and I always had one sitting right across the kitchen table from us.
Mom made sure he never had to crave healthy food again.
This is D-Day.