“I had been in a reserved occupation throughout the war, hence my older age before being called up.
“I’d been working with a blacksmith forger on Arundel Lane making special tools. They used to have inspectors coming round workplaces like that, seeing who they could take away for the war, but I wasn’t called up until the beginning of 1943.
“I went up to Gosforth in Newcastle to begin with, for training with the Northumberland Fusiliers. We were asked what we wanted to do, and learning to drive was one of the options, and I said I’d like to do that. So I was sent back to Sheffield funnily enough, to Endcliffe Hall, where I learned to drive three-wheel Bedfords.
“I also went to Bradford for training in how to put up bridges. I didn’t know what it was for at that stage, but we knew we were being trained up for something significant.
“At the start of June we were moved to Kent, and when we set sail it was from Tilbury Docks across the Channel to the French coast. I had never been on a ship before in my life.
“When we got to Sword beach, even though it was six or seven days after D-Day by then, the Navy was still shelling, and when our landing craft stopped we had to plough through a lot of water to get up the shore and off the beach. You just put your foot hard on the accelerator pedal and hoped for the best.
“We got over the top of the beach and regrouped. I was in a six-wheel Albion truck carrying bridging equipment. The first place we were called upon to reconstruct any bridges was the River Orne at Pegasus Bridge, and the next big place was a bridge over the Seine. I remember at one place we witnessed a lot of French women being held by the Resistance and having their hair shaved all off - it was punishment as they had been fraternising with the Germans.
“We carried on moving up, through Brussels, Holland, into Germany. The summer of 1944 was boiling hot but the winter was so cold I finished up in Hanover Hospital. I was injected with penicillin that many times I am allergic to it now. One of the German nurses kept speaking to me, telling me in German she loved me, I could be her lover and could take her home. I told her no chance.
“I was in the Hamburg area for two years. One day I was on parade when the sergeant beckoned to me. I was to be sent to Lille in France to pick up some personnel, and I drove through Germany, through Holland, and eventually arrived in Lille. When I got there the French were all chanting ‘le Boche finis’ - ‘the Germans are finished’. The Germans had surrendered.
“I stayed in Hamburg until I was demobbed. We came home on a Swedish luxury liner!
“Back in Sheffield I tried to go back to my job in the forge but the old boss had died and his two sons hadn’t bothered with the place. So eventually I got a job with the Post Office. I worked as a postman until I retired.
“I’d met a young lady, Lilian, in Bradford while training, and we’d stayed in touch by letter through the war. In 1948 we got married.
“Sadly Lilian died in 1979, but our son John is coming back with me to Normandy to see some of the places I saw. I feel privileged to be able to make the trip at my age - the fact I am the oldest one going, well, it is an honour.”
- See The Star this week for more of Sarah’s features from France for the anniversary of D-Day.