Sadly the relentless progress of time is taking its toll on the Associations membership and branches are beginning to close. While current membership of this branch is dwindling its remaining members are vibrant, full of life with a sharp and often rude sense of humor!
|Ernest Dark, Ray Newlyn & Don Shepherd (Chairman)|
|Fred Roberts (Trooper) 7th Armoured Div|
Before they had set off Fred enjoyed a self heating tin of Turtle soup but regretted this meal once they were out at sea. He found a warm dark place among the Camouflage netting on the back of his tank, curled up and slept his way across the channel. On arrival off of Juno Beach on D+1 the inexperienced LCT commander dropped the ramp into deep water and the first vehicle off sank without a trace. Fred's Valentine was next but he refused to move until the LCT had changed position. Although this was D+1 the beach was still being shelled and there were plenty of hazards and unexploded mines to be worried about but Fred still remembers exiting the LCT as one of his most frightening moments of his arrival in France. As it was the repositioned LCT had got much closer in and the Valentine "barely got its tracks wet".
|Replica Map - German Order of Battle|
After the excitement of the landing Fred's war in Normandy initially consisted of rushing to and fro with his Bridge laying Valentine only to arrive at a destination and find that a crossing had already been established. Although the Valentine was better armoured than the Cromwell he trained in it was much slower meaning they were always racing to catch up. As the driver Fred's view of the beaches and countryside of Normandy was usually limited to a postbox sized vision slit. Unfortunately our time was used up by this part of his story so I'll have to find out what happened to Fred next time we meet.
|Ernest Dark (Trooper) 7th Armoured Div|
|Ernest Dark today|
We also had a chance to meet several other Normandy Veterans but sadly didn't have time to interview them all. However the Chairman of the Southend and District Branch, Don Shepherd, offered us an open invitation to come back again at future meetings so I'm sure Ray and I will get a chance to gather more stories another time. This afternoon with the veterans (many of whom are also members of the Market Garden Association) was truely an inspiration and a privilege and I felt humbled in their presence.
We truly were in the company of heroes.