Voices of VE Day – to mark the 75th Anniversary Commemorations of VE Day, we spoke with a few of the veterans about their experiences on 8th May 1945 and hear their advice for future generations.
Flt Lt. Russell ‘Rusty’ Waughman (DFC, AFC)
During the Second World War, Rusty joined the RAF. He was selected for Pilot training and learned to fly in Canada as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. Having completed his training and gained his wings, he was eventually posted to Bomber Command’s 101 ‘Special Duties’ Squadron where he flew a Lancaster over Germany and France, including raids over Berlin and the ill fated Nuremberg Operation of March 1944. Surviving numerous night fighter attacks, German flak and even a mid-air collision with another Lancaster over Belgium, Rusty and his crew completed their full tour of 30 operations. Amazingly after the war Rusty then went on to fly Dakota’s during the Berlin Airlift 1948-49. (📷: Rusty Waughman)
Ken Tout – 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry
Ken served in 3 Troop, C Squadron of the 1 Northamptonshire Yeomanry. His unit arrived in Normandy a few days after D-Day and its Sherman Tanks were thrown into the thick of the action as an independent armoured brigade. Ken operated as a gunner, but due to his taking / passing the initial test for officer training before the unit left for oversea operations, he was promoted to a tank commander and frequently utilised in this role, taking over from other tank co’s when they were wounded. Ken served the whole way through the fierce fighting of the Normandy Campaign including in and around Caen, then the breakout towards Falaise and the Seine. This included Operation Totalise and the fierce battle to take and hold the bourguebus ridge in August 1944. Following the break out he took part in the capture of Le Havre before eventually going onto fighting into and through Holland. But in October 1944 Ken’s war was over, his tank overturned and he sustained a serious leg injury, he was evacuated by Dakota back to the UK to undergo an operation and recover. (📷: Tank Museum)
Bob Sullivan – 6th Airborne Division
Bob Sullivan (MBE) served with the 6th Airborne Division’s 3rd Parachute Squadron R.E. during the Second World War. Jumping into Normandy on D-Day and helping blow the bridge across the River Dives at Robehomme, Bob saw action the whole way through the Normandy Campaign, in the Ardennes and in Holland, before being wounded in the left leg by mortar fire near his RV on Drop Zone A during the drop over the Rhine, Op Varsity in March 1945. (📷: Chelsea Pensioners)
Alan King – 1st East Riding Yeomanry
Alan served in ‘B’ Squadron the 1st East Riding Yeomanry as a wireless operator on a Sherman Tank. Landing in Normandy on D-Day on 6th June 1944 as part of 27th Armoured Brigade, Alan and his crew fought all the way through Normandy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and into Germany. He took part in Operation Charnwood, Goodwood, Astonia, Operation Alan in the Netherlands, the Battle of the Bulge and subsequent Rhine Crossings. Alan had been incredibly lucky in Normandy as he and his crew had 3 tanks shot out from under them. On 8th July 1944 during the engagement at Galmanche, Alan sadly lost his close friend Corporal Louis Wilkes – every year Alan visits and pays his respect to his former tank commander. (📷: Alan King)
Denzil Cooper – Staff Sergeant
Denzil had initially joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) during the early stages of the war, before going on to join the Glider Pilot Regiment. Trained to fly the British Horsa Glider, Denzil went on to take part in Operation Mallard in Normandy on D-Day in June 1944. He and his fellow co-pilot then transported troops into battle around Arnhem as part of Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands in September 1944. Denzil found himself fighting for his life as he and his colleagues faced overwhelming odds and became embroiled in bitter house-to-house street fighting. (📷: Birmingham Mail)
Jeff Haward – 1/7th Middlesex Battalion
Jeff joined up before the war with the territorials 1/7th Middlesex Battalion which was equipped with Vickers Machine Guns, and saw service with the ‘Die Hards’ the whole way through the war, from its very start to its end. Jeff fought in France as part of the BEF in 1940 where he was evacuated at Dunkirk, he went on to fight in North Africa taking part in the Battle of El Alamein, then Sicily, before landing in Normandy and battling all the way through into Germany where he was on VE Day.
Jeff was one of those caught up in the fierce fighting in the Reichswald Forest in Feb 1945. He was awarded an MM for his role during this battle – which was later personally awarded by Montgomery himself. Sadly though, it was also in this same encounter that he lost his close friend and comrade, Sgt. Frank Dollin, on this day 75 years ago.(📷: Neil Barber)
Jim Radford – Merchant Navy
Having witnessed some of the events of the Hull Blitz, Jim joined the Merchant Navy at 15 serving onboard the Empire Larch Tug, where he and his crew-mates took part in D-Day assisting in the construction of the Mulberry Harbour – Port Winston – just off Arromanches near Gold Beach. There they stayed off the coast of Normandy acting as a rescue vessel assisting other crafts, men and crews in distress. Many of you will have no doubt heard Jim’s incredibly powerful account of his memories of these days in the form of his song – ‘The Shores of Normandy’ – which cannot help but bring a tear to your eye. (📷: Telegraph)
Meryvn Kersch – RAOC
Mervyn Kersch served with the RAOC from D-Day through to Germany. Nearly not making it to Normandy due to being put on a charge by an officer for not eating the supplied meat in army meals as it wasn’t kosher, that was quickly sorted and Mervyn continued in the training ahead of Operation Overlord. He would land on Gold Beach a few days after the 6th June, where he was part of setting up the vital vehicle parks to maintain the supply and demand of the land army from motorbike to tanks. He even managed to ‘borrow’ a jeep to drive around in. From the breakout of Normandy, Mervyn was part of the advance that moved across Belgium and the Netherlands. Mervyn spent time in Celle and would encounter many of the liberated Jews from Bergen Belson who were awaiting transport. He was able to speak to some of the survivors in broken English, French, German and Yiddish. He recalls many he spoke to wanting to travel to Eretz. On the 7th May, Mervyn embarked a train to Brussels, they were to prepare to go to the Far East. The train arrived on the 9th May where they were then informed the war in Europe was over and hostilities had ceased. (📷: Liberation Route Europe)
Peter Davies – 1st East Riding Yeomanry
Peter served in 1 Troop, B Squadron of the 1st East Riding Yeomanry as a gunner on a Sherman Tank during the Second World War. He had originally enlisted with the RAF as a wireless operator but then transferred to the Army who at that moment had been desperately short of W/O’s. Having landed on D-Day, he and his crew fought all the way through to VE Day where they finished up in the area of Biesbosch. They were incredibly lucky as despite suffering several glancing blows – ‘Bandit’ – Peter’s tank was never knocked out. (📷: Peter Davies)
Major-General Stuart Watson
Stuart joined the 13/18th Royal Hussars as a newly commissioned officer in late 1942 and was assigned to HQ as the units Signals Officer.
During 1943 – early 1944 the 13/18 Hussars were preparing for their part in the invasion of Europe, equipped with Sherman DD Tanks they were destined to take on a specialist role on D-Day by helping to spearhead the landings on Sword Beach with their tanks swimming ashore to support the infantry being landed.
Stuart fought with the unit throughout the bitter-fighting in Normandy during the summer of 1944, witnessing the horrors of the Falaise Pocket as the Allied forces broke-out into France and attempted to surround the remaining German forces during their retreat. He also took part in Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands with XXX Corps, saw service in the Ardennes during the Winter of 1944-45 before the final push into Germany. (📷: British Empire)
Ken Cooke – Green Howards
Called-up in late 1943 aged 18 when he was working in York, Ken joined the Green Howards 7th Battalion.
On the morning of 6th June 1944, Ken landed in one of the initial waves on Gold Beach. When Ken waded ashore the greatest thought which preoccupied his mind was not the enemy fire going on all around him, but that of his socks being thoroughly soaked through. His unit quickly pushed in-land in the proceeding hours and were in fact told to hold in case they got cut-off from adjacent units who had met stubborn resistance. The reality of the situation quickly dawned on Ken when the next day when the names of a few of his mate were posted as wounded or killed in action.
Caught up in the proceeding grinding fight through Normandy, Ken was wounded by shrapnel from an air-burst on 4th July 1944 where he was evacuated back to Blighty. It took several months in hospital for Ken to recover from his wounds. ‘Fit’ once more, he was sent back to the North Western European Theatre as a replacement and posted to the Highland Light Infantry, battling through Germany and ending up at Bremen. (📷: Ken Cooke / York Army Museum)
Len Fox – RASC, attached to 53rd Welsh Division
Len landed on Gold Beach late on D-Day. As a despatch rider, his job was to carry messages between units and to escort columns of vehicles to get them to their destination.
In mid-July, he was leading a column of lorries containing ammunition to the front line. As he reached the crossroads behind him in the photograph, he stopped to get his bearings. Beside the road, a sign read ‘Dust Kills’, a warning to take care not to kick up any dust whilst driving because if it were to be spotted by the Germans it would make you an immediate target. But it was a very dry time of year and trying to move a column of lorries around without creating any kind of telltale sign was a near impossibility. Unbeknownst to Len, the Germans had the crossroads marked as a target for their artillery and they were watching them.
Suddenly, a shell landed just yards away from them. Len knew it was a ranging shell and the next one wouldn’t miss. They had to move at once.
He got the convoy moving away from the crossroads as quickly as he could but it was too late. Another shell came over and this time hit one of the trucks, causing all the ammunition it was carrying to go off. The resulting explosion was enormous.
Len was badly wounded. He has no idea how long it was until someone got to him or what happened in the aftermath, as he didn’t regain consciousness until he was in a casualty clearing station about ten kilometres back from the crossroads. When he eventually came round, he saw a woman all in white and thought he was facing an angel. The nurse he had seen offered him a cigarette, and he realised then he wasn’t dead ‘because I knew you couldn’t smoke in heaven!’
Len awoke to find he was temporarily deafened by the blast and he had to have shrapnel removed from his spine.
However, after just six weeks recovery time he rejoined his unit to take part in the liberation of Brussels. (📷: Len Fox via Norfolk Mag – Text by Robin Savage)
Danny Mason – 6th Airborne Division
As soon as he was able to do so, Danny volunteered to become a paratrooper going through the all the rigorous training that this entailed to wear the famous maroon berry. Posted to the 8th Parachute Battalion of the 6th Airborne Division which had cut its teeth in Normandy and in the Ardennes already. Danny was keen not to let the war pass him by due to his age, so when the opportunity came to fill the boots of a comrade who could no longer jump because of medical grounds, he jumped at the chance to volunteer for his first overseas operation and first combat jump. This was to be the largest Allied airborne drop of the war to date – Operation Varsity – with the Rhine Crossing in March 1945. Once on the ground, Danny and his comrades battled through Germany helping spearhead the thrust towards the River Elbe. Only a few days before the war officially ended, Danny had been wounded by a German aircraft attack on his position. He was evacuated out of the line to Belgium and was in hospital on 8th May 1945 for VE Day. In typical Airborne style, that did not stop him breaking out of the hospital to join in the celebrations and have a few drinks. (📷: Danny Mason / WW2 Nation)
Peter Lovett – 6th Airborne Division
Peter landed on Juno Beach on D-Day and remained there with the 7th Beach Group for 4-5 weeks before it was disbanded and he went on to join the 9th Parachute Battalion, as a replacement helping to fill the gaps in the ranks following weeks of hard fighting on the left-flank. Following his involvement in Operation Paddle – the 6th Airborne’s advance towards the Seine and break-out of Normandy – Peter went on to play his part in the Battle of the Bulge before making his his first combat jump with the 6th Airborne Division as part of Operation Varsity – the Rhine Crossing into Germany. (📷: Peter Lovett / WW2 Nation)
Bombardier, Tom Jones
Tom served in General Bill Slim’s ‘Forgotten’ Fourteenth Army. Brought up in Liverpool, witnessing the Blitz here as he worked in the city’s air-defence before joining up where he was posted to India for his training with the Royal Artillery. He went on to become a wireless operator for a Forward Observation Officer with the 33rd Jungle Field Regiment battling through Burma against the Japanese. He was still fighting the Japanese in the jungle when the ending of the war in Europe on VE Day was announced. (📷: Tom Jones / WW2 Nation)
Cpl Len Trewin – 6th Airborne Division
Len served with the 6th Airborne Division during the War. Initially gaining some experience with his local Home Guard unit, Len was called up in 1943 and was posted to the Royal Warwick’s camp of Budbrook Barracks for training, where as luck would have it a few Parachute Regiment recruitment team were also visiting. Fancying the challenge or as Len would say why not give it a go, he volunteered to join the Paras. And was whisked away to Hardwick Hall for 2 weeks of intense physical training before going on to Ringway / Tatton Park to do jump training and gain his wings following 8 successful practice jumps. Eventually Len was posted to 8th Battalion under the command of the renowned veteran CO Alistair ‘Jock’ Pearson. He joined the Mortar Platoon and arrived as a reinforcement in Normandy in August just in time to take part in the breakout towards the River Seine as part of Operation Paddle.
Following this, Len was involved in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes with 8th Bn, then took part in Operation Varsity in the jump across the Rhine. It was in this that Len was wounded as he was advancing up a road they came under fire from a German anti-aircraft gun which was being used in a ground role and he was caught by a piece of Shrapnel from one of its shells just above the left eye and still has this memento from Krupp to this day. Following the end of the war Len went onto see service in Palestine as well as other parts of the Middle East. (📷: Len Trewin)