Only D-Day heroes were those to storm beaches first, says veteran

The only D-Day heroes were the front-line troops who were the first to storm the beaches of Normandy – helping to strike a decisive blow against the Nazis, a veteran has said.

Some 156,000 Allied troops launched from the sea and air in June 1944 in an operation then prime minister Winston Churchill described as “undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place”.

D-Day marked the beginning of an 80-day campaign to liberate Normandy, which involved three million troops and cost the lives of 250,000 people.

At just 18, Royal Naval Commando coder Freddie Homard landed on Sword beach at around 5pm on June 10 – four days after the first wave.

“The only heroes to my mind on D-Day were the front-line troops – the ones who went in first,” the 93-year-old from Fareham, Hampshire, told the Press Association.

As he and other military personnel crossed the English Channel, Mr Homard said they were all feeling scared, did not know what to expect and he remembers three distinct things from his time on the ship.

Freddie Homard
Freddie Homard

These were a religious service which was “absolutely packed”, matelots playing cards as they felt their English money would be useless and five bins on deck full of blood-soaked uniforms.

Landing on Sword beach, he said there were burnt-out tanks visible on the sandy stretches and bodies still in the water.

“We drove off in our three tonners up the beach, jolly jack hanging out the back and we were having a good look around until the beach master came roaring up in his Jeep and said ‘get your bloody heads down we have still got snipers’,” he said.

“He then turned to a tank commander and said ‘put a shell through that church roof’.

“He brought the steeple down and in the rubble were German snipers together with their French girlfriends.”

The next day they travelled the 12 miles to Juno beach, where they set up the headquarters for the Flag Officer British Assault Area (FOBAA) – with all coded and decoded signals from the three services routed through there.

Mr Homard said they were receiving 1,600 messages a day – with more than 600 ships off the coast of Normandy – and saw the eight coders working in two watches for three months.

Freddie Homard
Freddie Homard

“We were shelled every night, we had planes going over dropping bombs,” he said of their living environment in the orchard of a chateau.

“We were in tents, we were eight in a tent and I remember it was my suggestion that we just lay there with our tin hats over our faces and that’s what we did.”

Mr Homard, a father to one, grandfather to two and great-grandfather to one, eventually moved into Belgium and then the Netherlands.

Following the war he began working for the NHS on the day it was first formed on July 5 1948 as a deputy wages and salaries officer.

He worked for the health service in various positions until 1982.