Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips

Peter Thompson’s story…

Peter Thompson from Dorking, Surrey remembers D-Day well. It was his 19th birthday and his mother had baked him a cake – only he was not at home to enjoy it, as he was a crew member aboard landing ship tank HM LST-304 which took troops, vehicles and supplies to Sword Beach, Normandy.

When they landed, what they saw was more horrific than anyone could have imagined.

“The beach was already a mess,” says Peter. “We had been told that we would land on a section that had been cleared and swept for mines. But when we landed there were dead soldiers, exploded lorries and tanks all over the beach. They all had to be pushed to the side to clear a path to keep the troops going. To see the carnage was horrendous.

“You weren’t allowed to help anybody – those were the orders. If someone was drowning you could not help them. If we had stopped to help, we would have been sitting ducks. It was very sad and upsetting. It is something which no one should have to see, particularly at such a young age.”

And what happened to the cake his mother baked him for his 19th birthday? Well, it arrived late and was a pile of crumbs, but Peter and his fellow crewmen happily ate all of it with their hands.

Harry Parker’s story…

Harry Parker DFC, from Rotherham, Yorkshire, used his Heroes Return grant to return to Poland and Denmark, where he flew on bombing raids as a Flight Engineer with RAF Bomber Command 635 Squadron, based at RAF Downham Market in Norfolk. He joined the RAF as soon as he could in 1941 at the age of 17¾.

The 635 Squadron was a pathfinder unit and Harry’s Lancaster served as the master bomber, leading the way on four of the 54 bombing raids he flew on.

On one raid Harry’s Lancaster was badly shot. While attempting to land at RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk with only two of the four engines functioning, the third engine failed. The Lancaster crashed in a field, stopping 50 yards from a white, stone cottage. The pilot and Harry were injured and the wireless operator was killed. Mercifully, help was at hand. “After we’d crash-landed a woman came out from the cottage with her best china to offer us cups of tea until more assistance arrived,” says Harry.

At the Downham Market base, Harry shared a hut with two other crews. “Sometimes you’d just close your eyes and when you opened them you’d realise one of the crews hadn’t come back. On one particular raid 97 aircraft were lost. More crewmen lost their lives on that raid then they did in the entire Battle of Britain.”

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