PETER Oliver is about as young as Normandy veterans come.

He was a 16-year-old merchant seaman when his ship, Help, was sent to assist in keeping the French beaches clear for the invasion on June 6 1944.

Though he did not set foot on land on D-Day, the task was dangerous - never more so than when he almost hooked a mine out of the water.

Mr Oliver came from Southampton, where his father was in the Home Guard and would stand in the garden firing at the Messerschmitt aircraft bombing the city.

His parents evacuated him to Overton in Lancashire. “Overton Camp, which was full of evacuees from Southampton, was bombed, so I was returned to Southampton,” he said.

The Help had been requisitioned by the Admiralty and its 40 crew were a mix of merchant seamen and Royal Navy personnel.

Mr Oliver, now 86, remembers having little idea where they were going when they joined the fleet on May 29 1944.

“We were seconded to the Americans on Omaha and Utah beaches, which we had to keep clear for all the traffic that was coming into them.

“Tank landing craft and goodness knows what else were coming in all the way down.”

The Help was equipped to pull heavy obstructions from the beach or the sea. “If something was in the way, you would remove it, whether it was a ship, a tank a lorry or whatever it was,” said Mr Oliver.

“I know that one of the problems for the tanks coming in was that there were tank drivers who were refusing to drive onto the beach until it was cleared of the bodies.

That was a really bad side which I knew about but wasn’t particularly involved in,” he said.

He added: “We didn’t see much on D-Day itself because that was all weaponry and the guys swarming ashore, but immediately after there was a lot of work to do.

“That continued until Cherbourg fell and then we were ordered to go to Cherbourg and clear that port of the various debris and problems which the Germans had left behind.”

The only casualties he recalls on the Help were from accidents, but there was the constant risk from aircraft - and mines.

“After Cherbourg fell, I happened to be on the deck and I noticed something floating in the water and got the boat hook,” he said.

“The ship’s boat, which had gone ashore to get stores, was coming back to the ship with the captain and two or three more waving frantically because I was about to hook a magnetic mine and I didn’t know it.

“I don’t know what would have happened if I’d hooked it.”