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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 June, 2004, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
'I helped liberate first French village'
Gordon Newman parachuted into France in the early hours of D-Day as part of the Sixth Airborne Division that dropped 10,000 men in the invasion.

After a brief lull his Parachute Regiment unit was involved in fierce fighting with German units for weeks after the landings.

The 79-year-old, from Bexhill-on-Sea in East Sussex, who was called up, aged 17, in November 1942, now organises veterans' visits to Normandy.

I was never worried about seeing action because right from the start when I joined the regiment you were taught not just to look after yourself but to look after the man next to you.

Gordon Newman at Raville cemetery
Gordon Newman arrived before the main attacks on the beaches

We went through a lot of strict training before D-Day and I did about 40 parachute jumps in preparation.

But of course we had no idea that D-Day was being planned until two days before the landings, when we were told about our mission.

We were parachuted into France at 0200, seven hours before anyone attacked the beaches.

The pilots of the aircraft never knew exactly where they were dropping us because it was night.

A lot of men were dropped in the wrong place, even the sea in some cases, and it was a miracle if you were dropped in the right place.

I was in a battalion of about 600 men, and we landed about three miles inland before moving on to the village of Ranville, which we captured and held - it was the first place to be liberated in France.

Surprise

The Germans were not expecting us at all, and when we arrived the officer in charge there was spending the night with his girlfriend about three miles away.

We had been dropped to protect the left flank of the British Army from German attack when they landed on the beach near Pegasus Bridge, which meant covering a three- to four-mile stretch of river and the hills behind.

The Germans started firing on our positions straight away, but it was only small skirmishes to begin with because we took them completely by surprise.

I was scared out of my life but everyone was in the same boat, so you carried on surviving the battle

There was also little opposition when the Allies landed on the beaches, and with so many thousands of troops in a foreign country there was a lot of confusion, but everyone managed to do their job.

It was after a day of landing that German fire became more intense and the situation got very tough, when they brought up armoured tanks and we were under constant mortar fire day and night.

Survival

You had little sleep, dug in with your guns and had to fight off anything that came along until reinforcements arrived. There was one area overlooking the beach that took us five days to capture after D-Day.

Gordon Newman (centre) at the Pegasus Cafe at Pegasus Bridge
Regular visits to Normandy have been a part of Gordon's life

I was scared out of my life but everyone was in the same boat, so you carried on surviving the battle.

When you think that out of 10,000 men there were 4,000 casualties, 2,000 of them buried in Normandy [and 2,000 injured], then this gives you an idea of what it was like.

The bombardment lasted for a month until we managed to break out, and for me marching towards Le Havre is what I remember most about the liberation.

The Parachute Regiment is a very close-knit unit with 120 branches in this country, and every year we go to Normandy for remembrance services where we are welcomed by the locals.

I have been organizing visits for the last 20 years, but this year will be special.



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