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Veteran remembers the chaos of D-Day landings

By Herne Bay Times  |  Posted: November 15, 2012

  • decorated: Peter Smoothy wearing his medals

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AS THE country fell silent on Sunday, D-Day veteran Peter Smoothy had plenty to occupy his thoughts.

The 87-year-old Navy veteran landed on the beaches in Normandy on D-Day and was bombed by the Japanese while moored in Calcutta. He was on the ship that helped the Eighth Army drive the German retreat through Italy and when drafted he travelled to the USA on a ship with Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Mr Smoothy shared some of his memories with reporter Emma Cooney.

"ABSOLUTE chaos" is how Mr Smoothy remembers June 6, 1944.

He was 19, and on a tank-landing ship that had travelled overnight from Portsmouth as part of a massive invasion to drive back German forces.

The ship carried 30 tanks and 40 transporters, with up to 700 soldiers.

Mr Smoothy, of Bullers Avenue, said: "It was absolute chaos. You couldn't move for boats and ships and the Germans were on the beach waiting for us.

"We hadn't slept much and it was action stations most of the way. I manned a gun turret at the stern. Even though it was in June it was cold. The German air force was finished by then and we had complete air control, but there were still air raid warnings.

"I remember it like it was yesterday. We were all young."

The troops landed at "Juno" beach as shells landed all around them, and Army officials came on board with 200 German prisoners. They ferried them back to England before returning for more, and bringing supplies.

Mr Smoothy added: "By the second trip the beach had been cleared of the enemy, but the fighting was going on in the background. A lot of the Army were seasick and felt rotten. They were glad to get ashore, but the fighting was strong after that."

Mr Smoothy, who assisted the captain's secretary on the ship, was also caught up in an air raid in Calcutta, when Japanese pilots dropped bombs on a line of workers carrying baskets of coal to fuel another ship.

He said: "I don't know how many were killed. I was walking along the dockside and lay down on the railway track and tried to squeeze under the gap in the sleepers.

"There were two or three smaller air raids after that. They sunk two boats. We had an awful 48 hours."

Mr Smoothy travelled the globe during the war, ferrying the Eighth Army from Algiers to Sicily, and joining Prime Minister Winston Churchill for a five-day journey from Scotland to America in 1943.

He said: "The Americans couldn't make enough fuss of us. We were picked up and taken out to the Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, Radio City and to their homes by the seaside for the weekend.

"They were fantastic, they really were. They didn't know what it was like to be without street lighting and food wasn't rationed."

But back in Herne Bay, life was much bleaker.

Mr Smoothy said: "During the Battle of Britain there were German and British planes buzzing about the skies shooting each other.

"Several planes came down at sea. The Germans and British used to jettison their loads, if they hadn't used them, on the way back from their attack targets.

"There was the constant rat tat tat of the guns.

"There were lots of Army vehicles in the town and different battalions stationed there."

Before he signed up, he was a messenger at the town's fire station. He also worked as a junior clerk at the duty control centre at the council offices in 1941, where the air raid alarms were controlled from.

He said: "There was one alarm for the air raid warning and another for the all clear. The first time I did it I flicked the wrong one in all the excitement. I'll never forget that. No one ever said anything about it."

His two brothers Bob and Jim were also involved in the war but all three survived.

He and Bob even managed to meet up at the port of Aden in the Red Sea when the ship stopped for supplies.

Mr Smoothy said: "Up the ladder came my brother. He was in charge of the signal station there and knew what ship I was on.

"I got to read all his letters and see photos from home. I had a swim, we had peaches and cream. I nearly missed the ship afterwards when the motorboat we took out to meet it broke down.

"I got such a dressing down from the captain. I was charged with being absent without leave. He took my wages and leave away for seven days."

Mr Smoothy married his wife Florence, known as Shirley, in 1947 and helped her parents run the Railway Hotel in Station Road.

She died in 2002.

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