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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 June, 2004, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
'We were ready to be sacrificed'
Bill Chippendale in naval uniform
Bill says excitement overtook fear as they set sail

Bill Chippendale was an 18-year-old seaman on one of the largest minesweepers, HMS Pickle, having left his art course to join the Navy.

He helped clear Juno beach from mines and made many hazardous trips across the Channel.

I joined the Navy in 1943 aged 17 under the "Y-scheme".

After initial training as a prospective officer I was sent for more seatime experience.

I was drafted to HMS Pickle in dock at Harwich, a Fleet Minesweeper (Algerine), in March 1944.

After some sweeping I came together with the rest of the 7th MS Flotilla - Pelorus, Pincher, Plucky, Fancy, Lennox, Recruit and Rifleman - at Pompey in mid-April.

We trained from then until D-Day. As secret equipment was installed and other craft began to accumulate, we realised that D-Day was really going to happen.

I was just 18 on D-Day. My girlfriend, whom I met when I was 11, didn't know anything about it. In fact we didn't know much until the day before.

It was all top secret and we weren't to mention anything in letters home. So my girlfriend wasn't worrying about me coming home from France.

Excitement

On 5th June the lower deck was cleared and the Flotilla leader told us we were able to go.

We were to spearhead the whole invasion fleet sweeping to France with a couple of Battleships or heavy Cruisers backing up each one.

As we approached France I started to wonder how I would react to the fighting - would I be a coward? But I didn't doubt myself
Bill Chippendale

We were to bomb the coastal defences until the point of arrival and then to drop anchor half a mile or so off the beach to act as decoys in case any of the shore batteries were still alive.

That meant if necessary, we would be sacrificed!

We sailed on the 5 June just after noon with all sorts of craft trailing in our wake. We started sweeping five or six hours later. Before midnight we were at action stations, sweeping about five miles off the French coast.

It was such an occasion when we set sail. I wasn't thinking about being frightened, the overriding feeling we had was one of excitement.

But as we approached France, I started to wonder how I would react to the fighting. Would I be a coward?

It's not that I doubted myself, but some people had such severe physical or mental reactions that they couldn't fight.

I had heard of some who were petrified with fear, for example during World War I, but I didn't react in this way nor did I see anyone who did.

We anchored quietly a mile or so off the coast opposite Courseuilles - at Juno beach. We could see the dim outline of the land and soon after, the houses opposite; later whilst we lay hardly daring to breathe, the battleships some miles behind began shelling.

It was an odd sensation to hear these huge shells hurtling over us and exploding inshore.

Later, destroyers came closer and began shelling and we had a grandstand view of the landing craft going beyond us and up the beaches - and all hell was let loose!

Incredible sight

The main danger seemed to be avoiding a collision with landing craft weaving in and out.

We were lucky - we did have slight collision, but suffered only slight damage to the hull.

Later as the invasion moved inland we swept around the anchorages and we then sailed back to Pompey.

It was an incredible sight on the way back to see the ocean covered with thousands and thousands of ships and craft of every description.

After a day and a half we went back to Normandy. We would do ten days there and two or three in Pompey - this routine went on for a while.

Out off the coast of France we swept anchorage areas and widened other swept lanes, sometimes getting close to live shore batteries when we experienced some shelling during the day.

Pride

As I reminisce I can recall lots of experiences, too many to mention and lots I had long forgotten: sad ones such as seeing the corpses of American sailors - and, probably from the same sunken American ship, picking up a crate containing thousands of American cigarettes!

We also occupied the Trout Line at night, which formed a protective screen round the anchorage.

The hours of darkness were the worst because at anchor in the Trout Line we were prey to the enemy - one and two-man submarines who planted the Limpet mines on the hull.

Some men were too frightened to go down there to sleep.

I remember once lying on the deck off watch one beautiful sunny day.

Bill Chippendale
Bill retains many clear memories from the campaign

Moored in the harbour I sketched in pencil a scene of the harbour with ships moored all over the place and barrage balloons overhead when the coastal area was dive bombed!

The sketch, on a Naafi letter pad, was accepted by the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, which now owns the title deeds.

I'm proud that I took part in D-Day, and as for the invitation to the German leader to the commemorations this year, I think it's a good thing.

They're different people now, and if we can't be friends with them there's no hope.

We're all part of Europe now.

Over the last 20 years the Algerine Class of Fleet Minesweepers formed an association, and I served as chairman for a few years.

I married my girlfriend after the war and we celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary earlier this year.




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