Harold in 1943 - 18 years old
Harold Addie was born in Manchester on 17th February 1925. He left school aged 14 for what he describes as a ‘dead-end job at a horrible place’ doing sheet metal work. He left to join a telephone firm as an apprentice electrician, but describes the day he received his call-up papers in June 1943 as ‘the happiest day of my life’. It was the chance to escape the boredom of a job that he disliked.
He requested to go into the Navy, and completed four weeks of initial training with the HMS Royal Arthur. He was then sent to Southampton to complete a year-long training course for electrical mechanics. Harold, however, wanted to see something of the war, so (along with many others) he deliberately failed the first set of exams so he would be trained as Wiremen instead. He proceeded to take a twelve-week wireman’s course, which prepared him to be responsible for all the electrical equipment on board the ship. After passing, he was assigned to a Tank Landing Craft (LCT501) almost straight away. This had a crew of 14 and could carry 6 tanks. The training then generally focused on fitness and practising landing, although one experimental technique in Scotland saw 40 soldiers placed in the hold in the dark as a test of endurance.
The Normandy Campaign
From the 1st June onwards, Harold was based at Southampton, and he recalls that everyone had a very good idea of what was about to happen. Ships of all shapes and sizes came into Southampton over the following days, and by the 5th June there were ships everywhere. The men were not allowed ashore, nor to use a phone to speak to anyone ashore. On the evening of 4th June, they actually left Southampton Docks for Normandy, but only got as far as just outside Southampton – the invasion was to be postponed for one day due to bad weather. Harold recalls that the mood among the men was mainly one of excitement, due to their youth. Harold was only 19, and he suggests that he would have probably been far more worried if he had been a bit older.
The weather was not much better the following day, but it was decided that the invasion could not be postponed any further. They set off on the evening of the 5th June, and Harold recalls that when the skipper of the boat opened a sealed package, they knew then that they were on their way to Normandy. All of the soldiers on board were Canadian, apart from a single Royal Marine, and most were seasick on the journey, even the sailors. The rough nature of the crossing was exacerbated by the fact that the tank landing-craft were flat-bottomed and not really seaworthy. It took between ten and twelve hours to cross the Channel, and the vessel landed on Juno Beach at Normandy at around 7am on the 6th June D-Day.
There had been earlier landings at Omaha and Utah Beach, and as a result the Germans were partly prepared by the time their flotilla arrived at Juno. Where they landed, a section had been blown out of the sea wall, and troops had to run across the sand to get through this gap. Unfortunately, this was directly in front of the German machine gun positions, which gave many of the troops little chance. Harold recalls being horrified as they watched from the deck, unable to do anything about it. Although some of the advancing soldiers had shelter behind tanks, a lot were forward of the tanks, and most were killed.
The Germans had placed mined criss-cross girder tracks across the beach, and the ship Harold was on struck one of these after it landed. The explosion blew the steering gear apart, and left them beached. They unloaded their cargo of tanks and soldiers but could not go anywhere, and for the next four days simply went up and down with the tide.
It was not until later in the day on the 6th June that the beachhead was captured, at which point Harold went ashore with a mate. He was amazed to find a shop on the beach that was open, from which he bought a magazine called Signal, which he has kept to this day. They went into town at one point, but were stopped from going any further by the Canadians as a German sniper was firing from the Church steeple. They walked to the station and then back to the beach through a field, where they saw one soldier lying down facing the fence. For a moment, they thought he had seen something, but as they got closer they realised that he was not moving and that his face had been completely mutilated. On the beach, the dead were being dragged into collection points, thrown into lorries, and then carted off. They walked to the Atlantic Wall, where there were quite a few dead Germans, collected a tin hat and some belts, and then returned to the ship.
During the next four days, they saw the battle unfold. At night, Harold recalls that the noise of the firing and the flashes of the guns made it all seem so close. They observed as everything was unloaded on the beach, and saw the fighting almost come back to the beach at night-time. One of the ships in their flotilla, LCT530, was hit and had a gaping hole in its side. It pulled alongside them and Harold was able to use the generator from LCT501 to help pump out water. However, this proved futile, and LCT530 began to sink. As it did so, it started to pull down Harold’s ship with it, as they were attached by rope. The ropes were too tight to be untied, so the crew had to use hack-saws and knives to cut through the rope and prevent their own ship from sinking.
On the second day, Harold was on watch at 6.30am, with around 20 other ships also around. At this time, the RAF had mastery of the skies, and no-one took any notice as a small plane approached. When Harold looked at it through his binoculars, he was astonished to see that it had crosses on it and was a German fighter. He immediately began firing at it, as did the other ships around him, but the fighter was able to escape.
It was on the 10th June that they were towed back to Shoreham, near Brighton, where the ship was placed in dry dock for repairs for 42 days. Each of the crew was granted 21 days of leave during this time. After the repairs had been completed, they carried on taking supplies over to France, returning each time with around 500 German prisoners. This constituted their main role until the end of 1944, although they did land at Lecré Port, near Dieppe, two months after D-Day. The LCT was carrying troops on this mission, and there turned out to be no resistance as the Germans had left Lecré Port the previous day.
After 1944, Harold's ship no longer conducted supply trips to France, and was moved to Scotland. Harold was discharged in June 1946, at which point he returned to the telephone company where he'd worked before his call up. He did not like this, and got a Skill Card for the electrical union, which saw him move to work as an armature winder at Metro Vics for the next 12 years. He then decided to set up as a self-employed electrician for domestic appliances, a business which he would later pass on to his son.
In reflecting on his wartime experience, Harold reflects that it brought him comradeship and relief from the boredom of a job that he disliked. He always described receiving his call-up papers as the happiest day of his life, and believed that the comradeship was recaptured, decades after the events of D-Day, when the Normandy Veterans met together.