‘I’m still haunted by memories of bodies in the water’ reveals North Woolwich navy veteran

Young seaman Alexander with his ship HMS Gazelle

Young seaman Alexander with his ship HMS Gazelle - Credit: Archant

Memories of the war continue to plague minesweeper Alexander James as nightmares.

Alexander James with his medals

Alexander James with his medals - Credit: Archant

He can still picture the 9,000 bodies floating in Mulberry Harbour in Arromanches following one of the largest invasions in history.

“I always have nightmares about it, even now,” Alexander, now 88, admitted. “I had seen bits of bodies during the Blitz but it didn’t really dawn on me. This was different somehow.

“The Americans lost 90 per cent of their men, about 9.000 people, and when bodies have been in water for a while, they rise.”

Alexander, now a greatgrandad, joined the navy at the first possible opportunity, aged just 17-and-a-half, a few days before D-Day.

He had been part of the naval league sea cadets corps as a teenager and was keen to put his knowledge into action.

“When you’re 17, everything is an adventure,” Alexander, who lives in Miniver Street, North Woolwich, remembers.

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“Coming from the East End, you’re born grown up. War is war, you just have to get on with it and deal with whatever comes your way.”

He says England was very different in those days, with the First World War not long over and still very much in people’s minds.

“There were a lot of ex-service blokes coming round the streets of Canning Town collecting money, so the reality was there,” Alexander, said. “I had four uncles in the First World War and four cousins in the Second World War so it was in my blood.”

His role involved keeping waterways clear for shipping by detonating mines but he also ended up helping to escort Crown Prince Olaf to Norway following the end of the war, something that he saw as a great honour.

Alexander was so impressed with the area’s beauty that he vowed to return, which he duly did for his and wife Lillian’s 25th wedding anniversary. He was decorated with four medals for his service.

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