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Hagley Road Village - Tony Martin

On June 6 1944, British, US and Canadian forces invaded the coast of Northern France in Normandy. 4,413 Allied troops died on the day of the invasion. It is a day that 96 year old Tony Martin will never forget. Now a resident at Hagley Road Village, he recalls the horror.

I remember the feeling of fear as we packed into the ship on our way to Normandy. We had been training for this for months, we had heard of the so called Atlantic Wall - Hitler’s defensive system against an expected Allied attack - and we were going to breach it, we just didn’t know when.

I was superbly fit, a physical training instructor and a corporal with the 23rd Advanced Airfield Construction Group. Our job was to build a crash strip for the damaged aircraft.

We sailed to Normandy during the night, with no control over our future, not knowing what we were going to find. The seas were rough, people were seasick.

It was quiet when we arrived at Juno Beach, until the bombardment started - then it was like a living nightmare. There were aircraft circling above us in their hundreds, they came from every angle, some were on fire, there were planes shooting at each other, crews jumping out.

I will never forget the noise and the smell, the horrible smell. It was burnt explosives, burnt bodies, all sorts of things. There was the noise of the aircraft, explosives, rifle rounds, shells bursting. There wasn’t just one shell going overhead, there were hundreds.

Everybody was firing something, except us. We were trying to clear the track.

The guns deadened my senses and I got to the stage where I really didn’t care; I just wished it was all over.

I was over there for months. We went up through Belgium and Holland. I was lucky; I just had two tiny splinters in my back. My friend was killed. I had several near misses but you never hear the one that hits you.

In January 1945 I made the trip home on a tank landing craft and during a storm. I was then sent to the Far East and when I finally came home in 1946 I had tuberculosis, ulcers and stress. I was only 9st 4lb and I was ill. They gave me three months’ pay, patted me on the head and said: ’you’re home now, get on with it.’

It was good to be home, to have a nice soft bed, it was lovely, but it took a lot of settling in. I’d had six years of living with men in barracks, fields, tents, holes in the ground. The flashbacks went on for many years.

I had nightmares, night sweats; I used to wake up shouting.

I never talked about what happened. My three boys didn’t know anything at all about it. I just kept it inside until the Normandy Veterans Associations formed in the early 1980s. It was wonderful to have the comradeship of people who understood, who had been through the same thing. We all had something in common; we had all been under fire. After that I went back regularly to Normandy and this year I spent five days on a special trip to mark the 70th anniversary of D- Day.

I joined other veterans at the service for British personnel at Bayeux Cathedral which was attended by the Queen. It was fabulous. There were so many dignitaries there it was almost unbelievable.  

Afterwards I walked up the cobbled street to the cemetery. Everybody was clapping and cheering. I felt really proud because they made such a fuss of us. They call us heroes. I say we weren’t heroes, we were sent over, and we had no option.

This was my last trip to Normandy; it is time to call it a day. I would love to do it again but my body says ‘no.’ I came back exhausted.

I look to the future. I have moved into Hagley Road Retirement Village with my companion Beryl. My campaign medals are hanging on a blazer in the wardrobe, in our two bedroom apartment.

We came here to live and not to retire and we are living. There is so much going on all the time, it’s fabulous. There was a surprise party for my birthday.

D-Day doesn’t seem like 70 years ago and I don’t think of myself as 96. I am determined to live to be 108. I want to be the oldest surviving war veteran.