As the world remembers the events of 1944 on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Frank Baugh will be recalling his memories and the comrades he lost on that day.
World War Two veteran Frank was among thousands of troops who stormed the Normandy beaches and helped finally turn the conflict in favour of the Allies.
On June 6, 1944, the biggest seaborne invasion in military history took place along the coastline of Northern France - and Mr Baugh, now 95, was just one of thousands who witnessed the untold carnage unfold before his eyes.
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“All hell broke loose, ” he said. “The sea was red with blood. I’ll never forget the things I saw that day.”
His story of the road towards D-Day began two years earlier in 1942 when he stepped down from his colliery job to join the Royal Navy as a signalman,
“It was something I’d always wanted to do, ” said Mr Baugh, of Wheatley Hills.
Gruelling training across the UK followed and in late 1943, Mr Baugh was told to pack up his bag - as he was being posted overseas.
“We had no idea where we were going. We’d been training loading tanks onto landing crafts but we didn’t know what to expect.”
After sailing to New York aboard the Queen Mary, it was in the United States that he first came face to face with the vessel that would virtually be his home for the next three years - LCI(L) 380 - a large, landing craft capable of transporting 200 troops and vital equipment to the front.
“When we first saw it, it was a few sheets of metal. A week or so later, it had been turned into a fully seaworthy craft and we had the task of bringing it back across the Atlantic - where, for the first time, he actually encountered the enemy. “There was a U-boat in port in the Azores - that was the first time things seemed real, ” he added.
However, the craft he was aboard and the enemy would come into much clearer focus on that infamous day in June 1944.
“We were never sure where it was all heading. We knew there was a plan to land on the beaches somewhere, but that was that.”
By spring of that year, Mr Baugh, along with thousands of others had been stationed in Newhaven on the south coast, ready for a full on assault. “We knew it was the time. We had religious services and we all had to write letters home and hand over valuables. We knew then that things were real.”
In the early hours of June 6, orders finally came through and Mr Baugh’s ship, along with 6,000 others, were loaded up with soldiers, weapons and essential supplies ready for the short Channel crossing to Normandy.
“We saw all the ships at sea and realised the extent of it. As we got closer, the lads on board fell silent.”
But the air was full of noise as aircraft swarmed overhead, paving the way for the sea assault.
As daylight broke, the French coast came in sight - and that’s when “all hell broke loose” as LCIL-380 approached its designated section of Sword beach. The shells were going over our heads, you could feel the air rushing past as they flew over. You could feel the tremors as they hit.
“We were being machine gunned and shelled from all over the place.” One found its target and holed the ship - causing devastating injuries and damage.
“A lot of lads were seriously injured, it was the first time I had seen shrapnel wounds. It was horrific. The sea was red and we could see bodies floating in the water. I had never seen anything like it.”
“We saw men face down, we wanted to help…but of course we couldn’t.”
The ship managed to reach the beach before sinking - but with the troops off and storming up the sands, problems were far from over for the crew. The Germans continued to shell the incoming craft - and there was still the task of patching up the boat so it could return safely back to England.
“We managed to patch the hole up as best we could and got off the beach and made it back.” However, although D-Day was over, that was just the start of scores of missions for Mr Baugh over the coming months, criss-crossing the channel dozens of times to deliver more supplies and troops to the front.
After the boat’s decommissioning in 1946 and his return to Civvy Street, the memories of D-Day were locked away for fifty years.
“We didn’t talk about what we’d seen. Everyone had suffered, everyone had known bombs and death. We just wanted to move on.”
However, in 2010, he made the decision to return to those French beaches once more - and has been a regular at memorial events since as a dwindling band of survivors marks the 75th anniversary.
“Going back is always very emotional. I see the beaches and you see children paddling in the water and it makes me think of when the sea was red with blood, or people sunbathing in front of the armaments that are still there. In my mind I go back to D-Day and the things I saw - they will always be with me and it is important that we never forget them, ” he added.
THE STORY OF D-DAY
D-Day signalled the start of the Allies’ invasion of western Europe in June 1944, and was a crucial turning point in World War Two.
Thousands of Americans and Canadians joined British naval, air and ground troops, to prepare for Operation Overlord, which had been more than a year in the planning.
The air and sea assault was dependent on a combination of factors, including weather, tidal conditions and most important of all, surprise.
A total of 156,000 men took part, with airborne troops parachuted into Normandy in the hours before the main seaborne invasion.
6,000 ships and landing craft were involved, delivering troops to five beaches, codenamed Juno, Gold, Sword, Utah and Omaha - but at a cost. Some 3,000 Allied troops died with a further 9,000 wounded or missing.
Once the beaches were secure, progress through the staunchly defended towns of Normandy was slow. But with the Allies outnumbering their enemy and supported by air superiority, they were able to overcome the resistance, eventually paving the way for victory.