Coventry veteran Harry Sale, 87, survived some of the most dangerous missions in the Second World War – serving with 46 Commando Royal Marines in the D-Day Landings in June 1944 and the subsequent battles that brought about the liberation of France from German forces.
He recalls: “I was only 18 years old when I joined the Royal Marines in January 1942. I’d wanted to be a pilot really but the RAF was fully-recruited and I was told to go next door and sign up for the Commandos. The training was incredibly tough but it prepared us well for D-Day.
“We didn’t know what our mission was exactly until we boarded our ship two years later and left port in a huge convoy of cruisers, landing craft and destroyers. My unit landed at Juno Beach on D-Day + 1 and under heavy fire, we managed to capture a German strongpoint of pillboxes and coastal guns. We took 65 prisoners, linked up the other landing points and helped with the push into France.”
In the days that followed, 46 Commando Royal Marines were involved in a number of perilous missions to liberate inland villages, most notably Rots, where 22 of Harry’s comrades were killed and 30 were seriously wounded.
“Fighting with the Canadians, we defeated the SS Panzer Grenadiers and Hitler Youth movement in house-to-house battles for control of Rots,” he continues. “We lost a lot of men that day against some of the most fanatical fighters I ever saw. They were no-doubt brain-washed and prepared to die for their leader.
“I was also involved in a night assault on the strategic ‘Hill 112’, just outside Caen. This was a heavily-defended German outpost that was key to the capture of the towns that surrounded it. After surviving other battles and skirmishes thereafter I ended up at the port of Dunkirk and the next episode of my service began.”
Harry was also involved in the allied advance through Holland and Germany towards Berlin. His battalion was the first British troop unit to cross the Rhine in 1945 and his last mission was a successful crossing of the River Elbe as victory began to loom large. A blast from a German grenade injured his thigh and brought about an early return from the front line.
He is returning to Normandy in June with his son and daughter thanks to an award from the Heroes Return 2 programme. Whilst there, he plans to visit cemeteries and memorials in Rots and other nearby villages, paying respect to those who fought bravely beside him but did not return.
“There are only about ten veterans remaining from those that I fought alongside all those years ago,” he concludes. “I’ll be travelling back with some of them and would like to thank the Big Lottery Fund for my grant. It’s something that I’m very glad to be able to do and I’d urge others in my position to do the same.”
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