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Portrait of Okill Stuart in uniform, 1940.
(Courtesy of The Memory Project/Okill Stuart)
"And I remember turning to the chap next to me, saying, you know, a fellow could get killed around here. There has to be a lighter side."
D-Day will probably go down in history as the most important day in military history. It’s the only successful cross-Channel invasion ever attempted. As we learned in school, the first ever was in the Battle of Hastings, 1066, where the Normans invaded England. However, ours was the second most successful one, or successful one.
You know, there are a lot of times, months actually, where during the war, I can’t remember a thing. Naturally, D-Day is very much in my memory and has always been ever since. For about six weeks before the D-Day invasion, our whole division, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, was behind wire in Portsmouth [United Kingdom]. We were pretty well confined to barracks, as they say. On June the 4th, we were issued French francs, issued by the Bank of England and guaranteed by the Bank of England, for temporary spending money when we were in France. So we knew that things were pretty imminent. We’d had many alerts and “get ready now, we’re going in the invasion,” but we, we felt that this was it. So we got on our landing craft, which was a flat-bottomed boat, holding six vehicles. These boats all had long wires with the balloons, huge balloons attached overhead to ward off any enemy aircraft coming down to strife us.
When we finally got word on June the 5th that we were to start sailing and when we left the boom between the Isle of Wight and the mainland, we were told to read sealed orders. And it was only then that we knew what was up, that the D-Day invasion was on. We studied our maps – that was one of my jobs, studying maps and figuring out where our gun position was going to be and so on. It was a choppy journey. Many of the boys were seasick. Not me, I seem to have a strong stomach there. I think that the gang kept themselves busy, mostly playing dice. I got into a, the biggest game of poker in my life, called Red Dog. We played it all afternoon, once we’d done our homework, we played it all afternoon and all night long. And it was just at 6 o’clock, without any sleep, as dawn approached, we decided that we’d better pack it up, we’re going to have to start firing.
We were self-propelled artillery at this time. On the front of the ship or the boat was this infantry Bren Gun Carrier [a light armoured tracked vehicle] of an infantry regiment that we were supporting, Queen’s Own Rifles. And then I was in the next vehicle, command tank. To us, it was a mobile command post. And behind our command tank were four self-propelled guns, 105 millimetre guns to be precise, you know, fair sized.
Not too long after that, we had to start a barrage in front of the infantry as they were landing on the beaches. A tricky job in firing a big gun and especially with a boat that’s bobbing up and down to make sure that we were firing over the heads of our infantry who were assaulting the beaches. But I remember looking out in every direction and I, I saw so many ships that I never imagined there ever were in this whole world. It seemed one could hop from back and forth, from vessel to vessel, just like stones, at low water on a salmon stream. There were barges with tears of rockets going swish, swish, swish, firing on the beaches. There were battleships so far to the rear, you couldn’t see them and you could hear the shells going overhead, with a chug, chug, chug noise. Something different was happening everywhere and everything had a bang to it. I saw floating tanks, many of which capsized in the rough seas. That was a rather horrible sight.
As we were getting very close to the beach, about six feet of water, our landing craft hit a mine and sank. The ramp in the front was blown off, so we didn’t need a door. I remember this first vehicle off was this infantry Bren Gun Carrier. It had got about, oh, 20 or 30 feet off our landing craft and it hit a mine and went five or 10 feet out of the water. Nobody got out of that. At this point, I was observing the sea wall. Under the sea wall, at Bény-sur-Mer [France], were many, many dead and dying and German prisoners; a rather distressful sight. And I remember turning to the chap next to me, saying, “You know, a fellow could get killed around here.” There has to be a lighter side. And another thing too. It’s always the other fellow that’s going to get killed, never you.
I remember exactly, we left the landing craft, we were the first vehicle after this infantry Bren Gun Carrier. And with a little careful maneuvering, and a bit of luck, we were able to hit the beaches at exactly 9:25 that morning and without any problems whatsoever. From there, we were to go to a prescribed gun position and we found that another battery had entered into that field. So we turned around and we found another field and we were about to go into the field when a young man, a little, must have been 14 or 15 years of age with a little black beret, came up and waved at us, “Don’t go into that field.” “Why?” “It’s full of mines.” “How do you know?” “The Germans made me lay them.” “Well,” I said, “in that case, you sit on the front of the tank, we’ve got nowhere else to go and you show us the way in.” With a little persuasion, he showed us the way in. We didn’t lose any guns and that was our first gun position.
Interview date: 20 October 2009
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