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Rodney Gear Evans

On 6 June 1944 I was a Watch Keeping Officer and GCO (Gun Control Officer) in HMS Diadem. We came off the Russian Convoy Run and assembled at The Tail of the Bank in the upper Firth of Clyde on 1 June 1944. We left harbour on the 3 June and proceeded south in the company of CS 10. We spent the evening of the 5 June in the Solent and at 2320 sailed for Normandy.

On the 6 June we were in our bombarding position at 0500 hours and opened fire on the Beny-sur-Mer battery at 0552 hours. We finally left Normandy on 29 June. During that time we fired 3,826 rounds from our main armament. We had to return to Portsmouth to re-ammunition and then again to change our guns.

It is said that unless you were at Normandy yourself you could never imagine what it was like. There were over four thousand craft on the beaches at one time.

We did not fire our main armament (5.25 in) at night, so after a misfire in B turret late one evening, it was decided to await dawn before we tried again. Just before dawn, the duty LTO Jones was carrying out his normal duties testing the firing circuits in each turret, unaware that the left gun of B turret was loaded. With the interceptor up there was a positive click that all was well in the right gun, but Jones got a surprise when he tested the left gun. The guns were pointing parallel to the shore and we awaited a reprimand from the Admiral when it was known which of the four thousand craft had been hit. Apparently not one. The Admiral did not let it go unnoticed, however, and signalled, ‘What are you getting so angry about so early in the morning?’ For the rest of his time in HMS Diadem, LTO Jones was known as ‘Salvo Smith’.

On our way back to Normandy after re-ammunitioning, we passed one of the huge concrete Mulberry caissons being towed to the beaches. On top of the caisson there were two enthusiastic sailors waving away, apparently very proud of their ship. On the side of the caisson painted in huge letters was HMS Solid. Some of these caissons were built on the Thames and it is reported that local inhabitants were advised that these caissons were prefabricated flats for use after the war. There is no record that the enemy ever realized what they were until they arrived in Normandy.

On the 16 June HM King George VI passed through the anchorage and at 1255 was very close to Diadem, who was bombarding at the time. The Press subsequently reported this event, but instead of Diadem, they named the bombarding ship as Frobisher. This had happened to the Diadem before and whatever the reason, this was once too often. The ship's signature tune was changed to ‘I'll never mention your name.’

When Diadem returned to Pompey for ammunition, she was anchored in the Solent and lighters came along side to collect the empty cordite cases. The working party of sailors from shore appeared to have joined the Navy very recently. One of the party asked if we were bringing these back because they were duds?

This is part of the lighter side of the invasion, which took a terrible toll of life and was fearsome in every way. Nevertheless, it is these stories that give some humanity to the event and are a kinder way to remember June 1944.

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