D-Day anniversary: Barnstaple veterans recall the ‘longest day’

D-Day veterans George Laity and George Lambert, pictured at Barnstaple Age Concern, recall the Normandy landings of 70 years ago. D-Day veterans George Laity and George Lambert, pictured at Barnstaple Age Concern, recall the Normandy landings of 70 years ago.

Friday, June 6, 2014
12:49 PM

On the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944, two local men remember their part in the epic battle for the beaches of Normandy.

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George Laity served with the Devonshire Regiment during the invasion of Normandy.George Laity served with the Devonshire Regiment during the invasion of Normandy.

D-DAY veterans from Barnstaple have been recalling the fear and resolve of landing on the beaches at Normandy 70 years ago today (Friday).

Today heads of state have gathered in Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe that spelled the beginning of the end for World War II.

In North Devon, George Laity and George Lambert dropped in at the weekly Barnstaple Age Concern coffee morning to share their memories and pictures of the landmark day that saw an estimated 4,000-plus Allied troops killed on June 6 alone.

Mr Laity, 89, was a 19-year-old infantry soldier with the Devonshire Regiment, part of the 231 Assault Brigade 50th Division.

George Laity from Barnstaple pictured during a visit to Normandy in 1996.George Laity from Barnstaple pictured during a visit to Normandy in 1996.

He said he landed on Gold beach between 7.30-8am on the morning of D-Day, after some seven hours at sea aboard a landing craft.

“The seas were rough and the sounds of the rocket ships firing were deafening and frightening,” he said.

“It was just frightening, you are not heroes – we had no choice, we did what we were told to do.

“The elements on the day were as rough as you could imagine – we were glad to get off the landing craft. When we got on, there was a parson saying prayers and I thought ‘what a send off!’”

George Lambert was a stoker with the Royal Navy and served in Normandy as part of a naval party following just behind the assault waves to repair equipment.George Lambert was a stoker with the Royal Navy and served in Normandy as part of a naval party following just behind the assault waves to repair equipment.

“But looking back, I am glad I was part of it.”

Mr Lambert was aged 18 and part of a ‘naval party’ whose job it was to keep up with the assault troops to repair landing craft, ships and equipment.

He landed between Sword and Juno beaches at around 6pm that evening and their job was to clear away the wrecked landing craft to enable more troops and equipment to come ashore.

“It should be remembered,” he said, “it was a different generation then.”

But both veterans were surprised and a little frustrated that North Devon had not done more to mark the 70th anniversary: “In this area there was nothing organised – I would have liked to have gone over to Normandy if there was,” commented Mr Lambert.

Mr Laity added: “It should be remembered but here in Barnstaple you would not know if it was D-Day or Sunday.”

* Tell us your D-Day memories. Are you doing anything to commemorate the 70th anniversary? Email the newsdesk on newsdesk@northdevongazette.co.uk or call us on 01271 645056.

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