September 23 2014 Latest news:
Emma Lake, Reporter
Thursday, June 12, 2014
A D-Day veteran who twice found himself swimming for his life from ships struck by enemy devices returned to Normandy last week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the battle that changed the tide of World War II.
Frank Warren was a coxswain with the Land Craft Assault 653. On June 6 1944 aged 18-years-old he was aboard the doomed SS Empire Broadsword headed to the beaches of Normandy.
Travelling in rough seas the carrier ship would deliver approximately 650 soldiers to the beaches of France before it was sunk by a mine as it manoeuvred to return across the channel.
Last week Frank, now 88, returned to Normandy with fellow members of the ill-fated ship’s crew to sit alongside dignitaries at a service commemorating the largest sea-borne invasion in history and the men who died on the beaches.
Frank, of Ilford, attended the ceremony with 88-year-old Ted Webb, bowman aboard SS Empire Broadsword, and officer lieutenant John Langdon, aged 93.
During the weekend the three attended several events to mark the anniversary however Frank said the most poignant moment of his trip was the reaction of the French people.
He said: “People came up to say thank-you. That was when the emotions set in. We were walking down the High Street after dinner and everyone burst out cheering spontaneously. That was when it was most poignant.”
Speaking about the events that prompted their response, Frank said: “I was only 18 and it was all a big adventure - until we hit the beaches.”
The journey to France had been far from plain sailing. Frank recalls rough seas and a lucky escape as a Norwegian carrier ship escorting the SS Empire Broadsword was struck by a torpedo.
He said: “All of a sudden there was a terrific explosion and by the time I had got up on deck we could see the bow and stern sticking out of the sea.
“What we realised later was that if it had not have been there, it would have been us.”
The luck of the landing ship was not to last and Frank recalls the moment that it hit sea defences and was destroyed by a mine.
“We hit one of the obstacles which tipped the craft and we all had to swim for the beach, We swam and waded up the beach.”
The beach was strewn with burning machinery and the bodies of those who had gone before them. Frank and three of his comrades sheltered among the sand dunes amid the fire of battle ships until they were able to board another ship.
The orders given to Frank by the beach master were ‘you must get out of here as soon as you can’.
Frank continued making the trip across the channel until July 2 1944 and this was not his only shipwreck.
While on a trip from France to England the ship he was in was hit by mines and sunk. For the second time Frank found himself abandoning ship and swimming for his life.
Frank said that last week’s memorial was a poignant occasion.
He said: “I think it’s important for these events to be remembered and treasured. I think it will go on until it becomes part of history.”