MOST visitors to the D-Day beaches return home with the abiding memory of silence and thousands upon thousands of white grave markers.
Former Royal Marine Bill Lloyd, however, remembers “the sound of bees” as he disembarked the landing craft.
It was actually the noise of metal flying through the air.
He was in one of the later waves to reach Normandy during the mass offensive by British, Canadian and US forces on June 6, 1944.
He has been back to the beaches several times, mostly thanks to the D-Day Revisited organisation, which enables veterans to revisit the former warzone.
“I was a man at 18,” he said. “I was working as a fireman watching the Courtauld’s Flint Deeside Mill factory at the start of the war.
“I was the only member of my Home Guard with a gun. I used to use it for shooting rabbits.
“I had a girlfriend and before I left we had a debate over whether or not to marry. We did. I can see the church we married in from my house now.”
Bill, now 91, was “passed out” as a dispatch rider, and attached to the 5th Royal Marines Brigade (AA), where his unit formed part of the second Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation.
They were tasked with seizing and holding ports and Bill, from Flint, found himself serving in North Africa, crossing stretches of desert in Malta and Sicily.
In between his dispatch rider duties, escorting officers and carrying information, Bill also manned a Bofors light anti-aircraft gun.
He said: “In Malta I had an officer who was red hot on waterproofing the vehicles, in case we had to drive through the water when we reached Sicily.
“I spent ages waterproofing a motorcycle, and my officer decided he’d try it out. He put on his trunks, rode out into the sea, and went around in a semi-circle and came back on to land.
“‘It works!’ he said. Then we landed at Sicily on a jetty, so the whole thing was pointless.”
Initially, he expected to push on from Sicily into Italy, but then his unit was recalled under secretive conditions.
He said: “We were sent up to Scotland for different training, commando-style. We did everything from swinging from ropes to stripping off and wading through rivers with all our kit on our heads.
“Then we were sent down to Gosport where we stayed in bivvies (bivouacs), sleeping top-to-tail. It was warm, but you had someone’s sweaty feet by your head.
“My mate was a dispatch rider too and he used to live in the area, so as we were travelling along, he’d shout ‘and this is so-and-so town!’. Remember, all the road signs were taken down then to confuse spies. So much for secrecy!
“I asked our sergeant major if my mate could pick up the papers to give him a chance to see his family.”
They left Gosport in great secrecy, but Bill recalls his friend’s family coming to the beach to wave them off.
He said: “His mother, mother-in-law and sister came. Our sergeant yelled ‘who the hell are these people?’.
“Then we loaded into the landing craft, motorbikes and all. One bright spark decided he’d launch himself up the ramp. He took off at the top and crashed down at the bottom. He got in on the boat, I suppose.”
Bill, by now an expert at snatching sleep while he could, napped beside his own bike.
Recalling his journey to France for Operation Neptune – the codename for the Normandy landings – he said: “The crossing took a few hours. It was light by the time we came off. We were in Assault Force G on Gold beach. I was among those that didn’t get their boots wet.
“The first waves had to wade to shore, but we didn’t.”
Like many old soldiers, Bill is guarded when speaking about what he saw in the conflict zone.
He said: “There was all sorts going on. All sorts. I was fighting next to Canadians, so I had some idea this was a big push, but you didn’t think about that.
“You just took care of your objective. They told you to get somewhere and you tried your best to.”
Even once the beach was secure, Bill, now pushing into territory that had only recently been liberated, continued to have adventures.
He said: “I got to one checkpoint and I was stopped. I got a bit uppity. I said ‘I’m on dispatch. I’m attached to headquarters. You’ve got to let me through’.’’
“He said ‘well, you can go if you want, but this bit is still full of Germans’. I turned around after that.” Bill found himself navigating his unit toward Brussels, as well as making ‘zig-zag’ crossings of the countryside with messages.
He said: “A lot of bad things happened. A lot of strange things, too. You couldn’t drive at night because the headlights would make you a target, so as soon as it started getting dark I’d look for anywhere to sleep.
“One night I hid in a barn. I was getting ready to sleep when I heard another motorcycle engine. It went dead and someone wheeled it into the barn.
“I realised that it was a German soldier, probably another dispatch rider.
“We made a sort of agreement. He wouldn’t shoot me and I wouldn’t shoot him (I always carried a revolver). In the morning, I got up and he’d already gone.”
Bill’s last posting after coming home from the mainland was Towyn, where he took every opportunity to sneak home to visit his young wife, after which he was demobbed.
For Bill, a return to Normandy 70 years on brings mixed feelings. “It’s strange,” he said. “The people there don’t bear any grudges.
“Often they’ll say ‘thank you’. The mayor of one town was a little boy when we came through. He remembered hiding in the cellar and then running out among the soldiers.
“I’ve met other veterans – nurses, the infantry, pilots, engineers – everyone. D-Day Revisited doesn’t discriminate by unit or rank.
“I met a bomber pilot who said ‘I don’t know if I should be here. I only flew over’, but we told him our lives would have been a lot more difficult if it hadn’t been for the likes of him.
“The D-Day Revisited people work very hard to bring everybody together. We are very grateful to them.”
Bill sometimes finds himself questioning whether the conflict was justified.
He said: “We don’t often talk about D-Day itself.
“The one thing that comes to mind is what a waste it was. I sometimes ask myself if it was worth it.
“But then my son, Kevin, says that when we found out what was going on later, with the death camps and everything, that it could have been so much worse.
“To be honest, the main reason I go back is for all the men who didn’t come home. It’s to honour them.”
l To find out more about the D-Day Revisited charity, which funds and organises visits, log on to d-dayrevisited.co.uk.
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