THE sun glinting on peaceful Littlehampton harbour, where Stanley Northeast, 93, was among the veterans gathering for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, was in stark contrast to the choppy conditions under a glowering sky he witnessed in the Solent as part of the largest seaborne invasion force in history.
With hundreds of thousands more taking part in the Allied mission to liberate France and turn the tide of the Second World War, Stanley landed on the Normandy beaches on D-Day itself.
Just before D-Day, after training in landing craft on the coast of Scotland on beaches similar to those in northern France, Stanley, of Beaconsfield Road, Wick, was back in West Sussex, stationed at Goodwood Park, although his hopes of spending 48 hours at home were dashed when a sentry tore up his pass at the gate, announcing: “You’re going nowhere mate, all leave has been cancelled.”
Hours later, in the early hours of June 6, 1944, Stanley and 25 others in his RAF advanced signals unit boarded their landing craft at Portsmouth. After a couple of hours’ wait in the Solent, they set off in the darkness with the huge invasion fleet crossing the English Channel.
The unit landed on Sword Beach, at Ouistreham – now Angmering’s twin town – and moments later Stanley was driving his large Fordson truck across the sand.
“The noise was deafening, especially from the warships shelling and bombarding the beaches over our heads, before we disembarked and drove up the beach. A pathway had been swept and we had to keep to the white tapes.
“We were all scared stiff; if you said you weren’t, you were a liar. When ashore, we joined a convoy of 74 behind an ambulance and went to Bayeux for instructions.”
Stanley still thinks about the young men he saw cut down on the beach but, incredibly, his own unit, which had the task of guiding Allied bombers to their targets, made it right through the rest of the war, crossing into Belgium, Holland and finally Germany, without losing a single man.
Like so many veterans, Stanley said little, if anything, about his wartime exploits until a few years ago.
His memories inspired his son, town and Arun councillor Mike Northeast, to suggest the 70th anniversary commemoration at the Look & Sea Centre, where Mike is a trustee, and he and trustee Valerie Sharp worked on developing the programme for Friday’s successful event.
“I’m very proud of what my dad did and that he was there on the beach on that first day of D-Day,” said Mike, “and I’m pleased we have been able to thank all the veterans in this way.”