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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 June, 2004, 09:06 GMT 10:06 UK
'I spent over a month on the beaches'
Ken Oakley was a seaman chosen to act as bodyguard to the beach master on Sword Beach on D-Day.

He was part of the naval commando, whose objective was to organise the beach throughout the campaign for the forces to land.

He was part of the first wave and was on the beaches until early July, where he was vulnerable to attack.

The beach master was the most senior person on the beach, but I didn't have a senior rank myself, I was an able seaman.

Ken Oakley
Ken as a young man in his naval uniform

My role was to protect him and look out for him at all costs and at all times.

I had previously seen action in Sicily after joining the Royal Navy in January 1940.

We were taught close in-fighting and to use close-range weapons.

We boarded at Portsmouth and were told the date for the operation had been delayed. We knew it was a big operation but hadn't been told where we were to land.

We were told to prepare ourselves for this major operation because we would be at the forefront of it.

The night before we landed the senior army officer gave us a talk. He told us that many of us in the first wave would not survive, but that we were not to worry because they would send a second wave and if that did not succeed they would send in a third.

We couldn't say or think much then. It was bedtime and we got what sleep we could on those not very comforting words, before being woken at 0330.

To be told most of us would be wiped out was a very sickening thought.

Under fire

We sailed overnight and I knew what to expect because I had taken part in a major operation in Sicily.

We transferred to a Landing Craft Assault. The boat was bobbing up and down and it was a choppy ride so quite a lot of the soldiers were seasick.

Our unit was in various landing craft to avoid getting the whole unit wiped out in one craft.

We managed to land without hitting mines, avoiding one at the last moment thank goodness.

Then we hit the beach and went to ground into the sand because we were under very heavy and intense multiple-barrelled mortar fire.

I put Sid's kidneys back in and put a dressing on. He survived and is still around today
Ken Oakley

This lasted until a duplex drive, that's a swimming tank, pulled up alongside us and fired one shell which knocked out the whole mortar. This was of course fantastic.

I saw a lot of wounded people. One chap was crying for help and I would always have helped anyone who needed it, but my first duty was the beach master, so I couldn't help him.

I was very sad about this, but there was nothing I could do about it.

The beach master was a good chap called John Church and we're still in touch after all these years.

In control

We landed almost exactly on target and were congratulated.

At one stage early on a friend came up and told me that a man called Sid was very badly wounded.

Ken Oakley
Ken Oakley says he is pleased he took part in D-Day

I went along to help him, and I saw Sid had taken a shell across the back.

I put his kidneys back in and put a dressing on. He survived and is still around today and I was best man at his wedding.

I was able to help quite a few soldiers, many of whom had to wade through deep water with all their gear.

At around 0830 I heard the sound of bagpipes. I looked over my shoulder and there was the piper walking up the beach in his kilt and beret.

I couldn't believe my eyes. He was playing as if he was on Horseguard's Parade

It was fantastic. I thought it was an indication of how in control we were at that moment. We all felt ten feet tall after hearing that.

The rest of the day was spent helping the wounded and the landing craft coming in, and moving the ones which had crashed.

All in all we stayed on the beaches until early July. We got shelled spasmodically, but I escaped with just a few bruises. I was very fortunate.

Looking back I like to think of a poem called 'Freedom' which was given to me by a Canadian. It describes exactly what we gave our service and lives for on those beaches. Sadly I don't know who wrote it.

I am pleased I took part. Think how different the world would have been otherwise. Life under Nazi rule would have been a far different existence to the one we know now.

But we should make our peace with the Germans. They are different people now.


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