‘YOUR task will not be an easy one. Your enemy are well-equipped, battle-hardened, and he will fight savagely.’
This was the message handed to a 20-year-old Kenneth Hughes on the eve of the D-Day Landings in Normandy from General Dwight D Eisenhower, US Army General, with an address stamp from the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Forces.
Mr Hughes, 90, of Ffordd Siarl, Leeswood, was one of 156,000 heroic soldiers who landed on the beaches of Northern France on June 6, 1944, in the largest amphibious invasion in military history, before pressing on through France.
Mr Hughes, who was born on Castle Street, Flint, was part of the Royal Navy Medical Corps, having been called up in 1942 at the age of 18.
He had lied to officers two years earlier to be allowed to join the Home Guard at 16, despite the legal age for sign ups being 17.
He was just 20 on D-Day.
And after watching Friday’s moving tribute on the French beaches which saw hundreds of veterans and dignitaries gather for the 70th anniversary, Mr Hughes described his role in the assault as if it was yesterday.
His crew of more than 100 troops – the Sixth Beach Group – landed on Sword Beach, around nine miles north-east of the vital strategic port of Caen.
“I didn’t pay much attention to Eisenhower’s letter, I just wanted to get to the beaches,” he said.
“The worst part of D-Day was the run in to Normandy. We came under artillery fire and we were sent below deck and they battened down the hatches. We knew that if our crew on top got taken out, we wouldn’t be let out, and we would never see the shore.
“We were dropped in four feet of water, about 200 yards from the shore.
“For months we had been training in Scotland on the banks of the Firth, being dropped in waist high water at 3am in the middle of December – so we were well prepared because that was damn cold.
“We moved onto Caen, firstly through Hermanville. We dug ourselves in to an apple orchard. The following the morning the farmer came and told us to move on.
“You can imagine what our sergeant told him.”
Mr Hughes, whose wife Dorothy died two years ago aged 84, said the bombings in Caen left him with a “terrible feeling”.
“We saw the bombers fly over us just five minutes north of Caen and we thought they were heading to push the Germans back. But the bombs dropped on Caen, killing hundreds of French civilians. The Germans weren’t even there.
“That left you with a terrible feeling inside. It still haunts me.
“A long time after I came home I’d sometimes sit in my chair and go cold. War does that to you. I saw some terrible things, friends and good men killed and wounded.
“People forget about the wounded but they made a huge sacrifice too.
“I always felt I was an infantry man but I’m glad I was stationed with the medics, because I couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d killed a man.”
Mr Hughes, who continued to serve until 1947, was on a boat to fight in Japan when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Japanese surrendered.
Mr Hughes’ crew was dropped in India, where he served in Bombay and Deolali.
On his return he worked at a silk factory in Flint before joining British Aerospace in Broughton, where he worked up until retirement aged 61.
His family have kept up the military tradition with grandson Vincent serving in Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan in the Queen’s Royal Lancers.
His children are Elizabeth and Anthony and he has a great-grandson Benjamin.
“It’s been good to see Anthony carrying on the family tradition in the military,” he added.
“I’ve been ever-so proud.”