War veteran Stanley has vivid D-Day recollections

Stanley Dickinson
Stanley Dickinson
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D-Day is little more than a date in the history books for some people, but 70 years on, Stanley Dickinson still has vivid memories of June 6, 1944.

He was still in England when the first landings took place on the Normandy beaches, but set off for France that same day.

Stanley, then just 20 years old, was among the many men who put their lives on the line for their country.

And he is keen to ensure they are not forgotten.

Stanley was born on Weldbank Lane, Chorley, and was still a teenager when the Second World War broke out.

He remembers bombs being dropped in the town when he was 16 or 17 years old.

He said: “I would go out and watch the bombers circling around.

“One night, I heard a bomber circling around and heard three bombs coming down – bang, bang, bang.

“They straddled Sacred Heart Church and a bungalow off Brooke Street was demolished.”

His brothers, Fred and Joe, were already serving in the RAF and Royal Navy, while his sister Hilda was doing war work.

And he knew the time would come when he would have to join the army.

Stanley, who is now 90 and lives on St Hilda’s Close, Chorley, said: “I always knew that at 18 I would have to register for military service.

“On September 17, 1942, I reported as ordered to an army camp a couple of miles outside Chester.

“I was just one of millions. I joined up with a lot of other chaps.”

Stanley spent six weeks doing primary training, covering the basics of marching, using weapons and other aspects of war.

The men were then posted to locations around the country and he went to Plymouth as part of the Royal Artillery.

He received more training to prepare him to work on coastal defence, protecting Plymouth from the sea and air.

Stanley worked in the plotting room and as a junior in the battery command.

He had to be ready for action 24 hours a day.

Stanley said: “We either slept on the floor of the plotting room with our own blanket or on the floor of the command post.

“I did four hours on and four hours off or something similar, looking at the sea.”

After 12 months in Plymouth, Stanley was sent elsewhere.

He said: “The danger of any invasion of our country had passed, so in November 1943 coast defence artillery was run down and I was transferred to field artillery.

“I was posted from Renney battery to 274 Field Batery Royal Artillery, who were billetted in Motherwell.”

Stanley left Plymouth behind and travelled to Scotland by train.

“What a dreary wartime journey that was – 15 hours it took,” he said.

“The train had to stop in tunnels when we were approaching towns with air raids.

“I had the galling experience of going through Coppull station at 2am – so close to home but still so far.”

Stanley stayed at St Andrew’s Church Hall in Motherwell, which was filled with beds and had a line of taps outside for water.

He even had the chance to watch football matches at Fir Park, home of his favourite Scottish football team, Motherwell.

But only three weeks after arriving, the whole division was ordered to travel south again.

He said: “When the people of Motherwell heard we were leaving on December 16, 1943, they brought forward the Christmas party they had been planning for us.

“For wartime standards, they gave us a good do in the town hall.

“Food was rationed and everything was in short supply. They scratted around and gave us a good do.”

It took four days for the men to travel south, staying at transit camps in Carlisle, Doncaster Racecourse and Leicester on the way.

Stanley said: “It was just a hut, no mattress or fuel for the stove.

“Each man had a blanket and made himself as comfortable as he could.”

They arrived in Walberswick, Suffolk, on December 19 and had a memorable Christmas Day when the officers observed the tradition of serving food to the troops.

The division was involved in a bigger relocation of soldiers from around the country.

Stanley said: “There were hundreds of thousands of troops on the move.

“We were just rank and file, soldiering on from day to day doing what we were told.

“But with hindsight, it was to bring the men near to the training areas.

“The whole of the southern half of England became a vast army camp.

“It was all for the invasion. Everyone knew there was going to be an invasion but no one knew where and when.”

Stanley and the other men were moved again in February 1944 to Sheringham, in Norfolk, and spent that spring training.

And he was still there when thousands of Allied troops started landing on the beaches of Normandy on June 6.

Stanley said: “I didn’t know any more than the civilian population.

“On that day, we had our breakfast and then went for what we thought was another day’s work.

“The sergeant followed us and told us to go out for parade, but that wasn’t unusual for the forces.

“All we were told was to be packed up and ready to move at 1700 hours.

“Later that morning, the announcement came over the BBC wireless that the landings had taken place.

“The whole country was in a state of high excitement – at last, at last.”

Later that day, Stanley and the other men left Sheringham and travelled to a large marshalling area for thousands of troops near Woodford, Essex.

The men had to stay there until it was their turn to leave for France.

Stanley said: “One day I went for a wander around the marshalling area.

“I suddenly found myself in the middle of hundreds of Americans.

“There was a big marquee there and they had set up a cinema.

“I wandered in and watched the film – The Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek. I saw the same film on television a few years ago and it brought back some memories.”

Three days after D-Day – know as D+3 – a fleet of London’s red double-decker buses arrived at the camp to transport the troops.

Stanley said: “We drove 20 miles or so through the busy streets of London.

“People were going about their business and it was obvious to everyone where we were going.

“People stopped in the streets to wave at us and support us.”

Stanley got on a seven tonne merchant ship named SS Empire Gladstone and set sail for France.

He said: “We sailed down the Thames that evening on the ship to join the convoy off Southend.

“We went through the Strait of Dover to this ginormous area of ships.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of ships joining the convoy from all the ports. It was incredible.”

Minesweepers joined the convoy as the ships headed to France.

He said: “As we approached Normandy, the sound of the gunfire became louder and louder and louder. I had never been on a battlefield or in action. I had never fired a shot other than in training.

“I only had slight experience of bombing from when Chorley was bombed before I joined the army.”

To find out what happened to Stanley, read the second part of his Big Interview next week.