George Fordham

I was an ordinary seaman serving in HMS Harrier, a Fleet Minesweeper of the 1st Minesweeping Flotilla, and our task was to sweep Channel 9 into SWORD beach. As a very young lad of 18, I had already spent four months at sea so the dangers of war were not new to me, but I have to confess to a feeling of apprehension about the events which were about to unfold.

These are my two abiding memories of June 1944.

The first is that, apart from the immense scale of the operation, the great impact of the day for me was an emotional one. After we had completed our task of sweeping we turned away from the Channel into unswept water, in order to keep out of the way of the following bombarding ships, transports and landing craft. This gave us a good view of the procession going into the beachhead. Watching the variety of landing craft all laden with men and tanks, we waved to them with great admiration, for they now had the worst job of all. There was an overwhelming sense of pride, and at the same time a sense of fear for them. The comradeship in such situations exceeds all other feelings.

My second memory is of the time after D-Day. At the end of each day’s sweeping we would anchor for the night, with all the other warships, to form a double line of defence around the beachhead. This was called the ‘Trout Line’. The purpose was to protect the ships and craft unloading men and supplies from attack by German aircraft, mines, E-boats and explosive motorboats. This was usually a relatively quiet part of the day and we were able to appreciate some of the most beautiful sunsets towards the west. They really were spectacular and in deep contrast to what was happening on land. As it became really dark, of course the scene changed and became one of gun flashes on land, fires and the anti-aircraft fire from ships, which brought us back to reality and the purpose of our presence there.