Clayhall D-Day veteran: ‘We had no time to be scared’
10:24 06 June 2014
A war veteran wishes he had had a crystal ball to reassure him of the luck he would have during his time securing beaches in Normandy under fire on D-Day, 70 years ago.
D-Day in Numbers
70 years since the Allied invasion of France
6,939 vessels approached the Normandy coast
156,115 Allied troops landed in Normandy on D-Day
10,000 estimated Allied casualties on D-Day
2,500 estimated D-Day deaths for Allied forces
23,400 Airborne troops sent out on June 6
9,000 estimated German D-Day casualties
425,000 casualties in total during the Battle of Normandy
20,000 estimated French civilians killed during the battle
127 D-Day aircraft lost
Len Brace, from Clayhall, was a 19-year-old conscript in the 11th Air Formation Signal Regiment involved in preparing safe landing strips for airborne divisions.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Len set sail from Southend where a flotilla was moored. “As we got nearer it started to get a bit noisy,” he said. “Later on we heard this great big bang three miles behind.” It was a battleship opening fire.
Len landed on Gold Beach in a jeep from a US tank landing ship in the late afternoon, to chaotic scenes. “When we got there there were so many ships firing inshore,” he said. “It was very, very noisy. It was exciting. I don’t think you had time to be scared.”
The landings saw Len and the rest of the Allied troops invade German-controlled France by air and sea. About 7,000 sea vessels with soldiers from Britain, America and Canada raided beaches after airborne divisions bombarded surrounding areas. More than 150,000 Allied troops were involved in the day’s events, which allowed the Allies to gain a foothold in western Europe.
Len, now 90 and a father-of-seven, was told to write out a will in the early hours of D-Day. “There was so much going on we didn’t have time really to reflect on it,” he said.
Len, who later worked for Ford, remembered setting up camp in the Normandy village of Villiers-le-Sec. He said: “That was our home, we stayed there for about nine or 10 weeks, we were living on biscuits.”
Len, who narrowly avoided death after driving over a mine in Normandy, said: “They [German forces] mined a lot of places, they mined everything, we had to be careful where we went.
“If I had a crystal ball 70 years ago that said I would be talking to you in 70 years, I would not have been so frightened.”
He added: “I suppose I am very lucky.”