well this the is the 65th anniversary of Dday. I am 86yrs of age and our boat carried 200 soldiers from Newhaven to Sword beach on june 6th 1944. It was a very emotional time, the invasion had been cancelled for 24 hours. Most of our soldiers were from the the North east. Mr and Mrs Bacci had an ice cream shop in my home town. They had 2 sons in the Army but as Italian nationals they were interned. Our soldiers knew peter and freddy Bacci. Freddy was in my class at school. There was a bagpipe playing on the port exit as we sailed into the channel. It would be about 5pm on june 5th. Our boat should have had 200 bunks. instead there was 200 slatted wood seats. When we collected our boat all the other boats had the seats removed and bunks fitted. for some reason we missed that. On the Salerno invasion we picked our troops at Tripoli. we did a practice beach landing. but the poor lads were on our boat 7 days and no where to lie down. We were on 4 hours onand four hours off they lay in our bunks but we had to roll them out so we could get a kip. they got an afternoon swim off Sicily. Salerno was the first time there was no Italian soldiers fighting. as we went in the green lights changed to red and we had to land somewhere else. things didn’t go to plan. the call for reinforcements went to the wrong place in africa. Men recovering from malaria were told they were going back to their own units in Sicily. some still were wearing sandshoes. s
So when they were put ashore at Salerno they mutinied and refused to pick up rifles there money to their dependants was stopped they were put in barbed wire cages and got no ciggies german pows were given them. ring leaders were going to be executed and flown back to africa. It was very badly handled. But back to Dday.
there was a buoy every 500 yards os across the channel i think our skipper managed to hit every 0newe saw big concrete blocks they were to constuct the harbour at Arrowmanches. We had four hawlican anti air craft guns but were fnd disappearedorbidden to use them. As our air forces had stripes painted on them and were capable of dealing with any enemy aircraft. Our boat was flat bottomed and had a three foot draft. I saw a sailor go down a ramp and put a yard stick down then a tank drove off and disappeared it must have been a sand bank. The major was on the bridge telling our skipper to go further in. But when you hit the beach thats it.
Jones from liverpool and taff Bevan from Wales were in charge of the ramps they lowered the ramps one each side of the bows. The soldiers came out of the troop spaces and rushed down the ramps. They had about 135 pound pack on their backs and a rifle in one hand and three mortars in the other hand to grip the handrail. however once they reached the bottom of the ramp they had to jump into the surf. we saw their predicament so we squeezed past them and got into the water to help them on their way. Three of us to each ramp we got a few on to the beach. then as the tide came in we finished standing on the beach and the boat was about 20yards away. I took a light rope with an end like a tennis ball and swam towards the boat. The boat swung away and i heard someone shout ” Whats Riley swimming in there for.” I had american army boots on full of sand and my lifejacket wouldn’t blow up. Eventually we did get a decent sized rope from the boat to the beach for the soldiers to hang on to. the last lad off our ramp was getting squeezed by the handrail the ramp was twisted so we had to undo his hands from the handrail and slide him through the side. we got back aboard and Stoker bob black from Falkirk winched the ramps back on board. I walked towards the stern. there was only ted Townsend there he had a coil of rope i saw it was attatched to LCI 112. at that moment the signal man Mcnamara from the Elephant and Castle shouted from the upper deck “put your headphones on,” which Townsend did. I didn’t know what was going on with 112 ithrew a coil overboard thinking they wanted slack they went beserk I knew I’d done the wrong thing I secured the rope around a ventilator. the rail stanchion went overboard then the top came off the ventilator. I got to know 112 had his anchor cable around his propellor and our skipper was on the fone to townsend to chop the anchor cable. which he did. 112 had to wait for the tide going out and chopped the cable from their prop. 112 would report to the beach master who was trying to get boats seaworthy. I wasn’t popular with them as they were stranded until the next tide.
We once towed an air force rescue launch from Taranto to Malta on reaching Valletta harbour the raf crewstarted their engine up and released the tow rope. it went straight around our props, The skipper had to pay a diver with cigarrettes to release theb props. Wally Prangle was shouting we’ve been hit and I’ve lost £4. he had it in his lifejacket pocket and it floated away. I was wearing an Ingersoll watch i’d bought in usa. pop used to repair watches and when i was home six days laterpop opened the watch it was just a heap of rust.
The shell had come in on the starboard side whecking the galley and the toilets and shwer the otherside of the bulkhead. There was one army officer that i saw went and looked at the starboard ramp then went back to skippers cabin. he may have been a journalist i never saw him until he went on the jetty at Newhaven. It was dark when we got back to England. We had no anchor and no navigation lightsso they opened the boom to let us into the harbour. we were very fortunate had the shell been 6′ forward there would have been 10 dead sailors. My mate Dick Short was coxswain he lived in Newcastle the cook and engine room staff were in the wheelhouse waiting to hear when we were coming off the beach. The wheel house seemed a bit safer than the open deck. It took 3 weeks to repair LCI116 so i got a bit leave isaw my younger brother for a couple of days. He was a rear gunner in a Lancaster bomber. poor lad he got killed in September ’44 on a raid on Darmstadt. He died on September 12th. At the moment my grandson Chris Riley is lodging with me. Tom was taller than me and abit ginger and so is Chris who was born on September 12th. I told him “You are my brother come back to me.” We did about 8 trips to the mulberry harbour. Then as we were due for refit we proceeded to belfast for old 116 to be prepared for the far east. Sadly my ears had been damaged off virginia in USA. In Africa my right ear was discharging and scabs formed constanly on my right cheek so I was only fit for cold climates. I got a draft to germany but my schoolteacher got me off that because i was on a correspondence course and getting mail would be difficult. Si got drafted to St Vincent in gosport we worked 12 hour shifts repainting the place to hand back to fleet air arm. I didn’t do much study there. That is about all for Dday I’ve been in France a few times and recieved £500 for taking my son David and Grandson William to Sword Beach. This year is the 65th anniversary of Dday. I’ve joined the Normandy Veterans Newcastle branch. The Edinboro branch has offered places to the Newcastle branch so i’ll be travelling with them next june 3rd. I’ve been to normandy on my bike and belfast to see wally Prangle and to peel on the Isle of Man to see Scarff our wireless operator. I think I’ll relate them three trips my next effort cheerio for now