ERIC Steele can still list the names of the friends he lost in the Normandy landings 70 years ago.
He was quartermaster with A company of the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, responsible for feeding and equipping his company after they landed on Gold Beach.
He had already served in Crete and Italy before being sent to Normandy. He had been a platoon sergeant but had been made quartermaster three weeks before D-Day when another man went sick.
He remembers the defences the Germans had assembled on the French beaches.
“We were going at sort of a half-tide and there were these massive steel structures with tether mines on,” he said.
“The Germans thought we might go in at high water and the boats would have hit them, but going in at half-tide, low-ish water, which was a bit rough, meant that we could see what was going on. But it was still very hectic.
“There were tanks on fire that hadn’t got ashore. Lt Cl Nelson Smith, CO, was knocked out on the beach there. It was all hell let loose.
“We stopped. There was a pillbox opening up, somebody had to knock it out, and I think a tank came up and knocked it out.
“We were then able to get our breath back and it was from then that we really got organised. I had my transport. Rations were coming in on trucks.”
When he caught up with his company, they had taken a radar station on a hill and were waiting to attack another area.
The company had taken over trenches that the Germans had dug. Mr Steele arranged to supply the troops with blankets for the cold night and tools to enlarge their trenches.
He remembers his company later reaching Bayeux with little opposition.
“The opposition came after,” he said.
“The boys were going across a field and they couldn’t understand why the bullets were flying around. The German snipers were up in the trees and they called in the Typhoons, the rocket-firing ones.”
He came close to being a casualty himself. “I was going up in the Bren gun carrier one day and there were bullets flying all over the place.
“A bullet came over the top of the back of my head, bounced off, and just nicked the nose of my driver,” he said.
Mr Steele ended the war as a quartermaster in Allied-occupied Berlin.
Mr Steele often thinks of the colleagues who did not return.
He said a wartime pal had often invited him to reunions for sergeants in Winchester.
“I said: ‘I’m not going. It’s heartbreaking for me. I won’t see my pals.’ I’ve never been to one of them.”
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