Able Seaman (Coxwain) George Henry Kirkby
Unit : Landing Ship Infantry HMS Princess Astrid, 500th Flotilla.
05:42 on June the 6th 1944 I left my troop ship the LSI HMS Princess Astrid (a converted cross channel Belgian steamer) and piloted my landing craft ALC (Assault Landing Craft) the seven miles into Sword Beach observing a few destroyers patrolling the waters sinking any obstacles to clear the way for on coming craft. Once at the beach head the ramp was dropped and I unloaded my troops from 4 Commando, part of Lord Lovat's brigade. I always remember Lovat's piper in one of the boats going ashore, who I believe to be Bill Millan, piping the troops to battle but the noise of fire drowned him out! The beach was strewn with dead and wounded bodies, the air thick with smoke and the water around us spraying up into the craft through concentrated mortar and machine gun fire. I can't remember being scared though, it's a funny thing but as a young man of twenty one it never crossed my mind I could be killed. Everyone had their job to do and you had to get on with it, but I did feel sorry for the fellows that had wives and families back home, I think I would have felt different in their shoes.
Having unloaded everyone we began to come astern from the beach when we discovered a leading rope that the front man had taken from craft to shore for the troops to follow had become fouled up in a beach obstacle. One of my fellow Seamen tried to cut us free and whilst doing so there was a blinding flash. We'd been hit. To this day I'm still not sure whether we hit a Teller mine or it was a mortar or artillery shell, I've often remarked to my family that for another six foot I wouldn't be here today! We eventually got free and started the journey back to the Astrid but after a mile or so we were up to our waists in water. The order was given to abandon and luckily another ALC on it's way back picked us up. The Coxwain of the craft had suffered with seaspray in his eyes and had difficulty in seeing so he asked me to take over the wheel and guide us all back.
My final memory of that day was something comical. Each landing craft had been issued with two bottles of strong Navy rum for the troops as a slug of "Dutch Courage". But due to the sea being so rough most troops had fallen foul of sea sickness and as I'm sure you can imagine the last thing you would want in that situation is to start drinking alcohol. However to the hardened sailor of the Royal Navy whatever the weather "splicing the main brace" is always a welcome treat! So as I bordered the ship I saw two seamen being stretchered from their ALC believing them to be wounded but it transpired that they had opened the rum on their way back and had a good swallow! As we say in the service they were three sheets to the wind! After D-Day I spent the next week or so trooping, landing more and more fighting men to enforce the battle of Normandy, which was a hazard in itself. Nine times out of ten we faced bad weather making it difficult to come along side the Mulberry Harbour.
© BBC. WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/.
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