‘We knew a lot of men descending on that beach weren’t coming back’ - oldest surviving D-Day brothers from Silvertown reveal all
- Credit: Archant
When Johnny Dale remembers his experience of D-Day he thinks: “That could have been me.”
Stationed a mile off the Normandy coast firing guns at German bunkers, he and his brother Ernest had the gory action in plain sight.
The pair, who hailed from Silvertown, are the oldest surviving brothers to take part in the allied invasion on June 6, 1944.
This month they were awarded the exclusive “Lest We Forget Bradford Exchange Award” to honour the contributions and sacrifices they made during the war.
“D-Day was a very sad day because you knew at that moment a lot of the men descending on that beach were not coming back,” said Johnny, now 94.
“We could see it from our boat, especially Ernest as he was on the top deck, but you couldn’t really be afraid, we were just too busy.
“It was our job to silence the German bunkers by firing at them and we got a couple of hits.”
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Describing how close the men came to death, Ernest, 90, added: “The Germans put coloured buoys in the water as range finders. If you found yourself near any you could expect to be fired upon. It took a full five minutes to turn the ship around once the sailors realised they were sitting targets.”
After sailing through a nautical minefield, Johnny and Ernest remember the harrowing moments the vessel was fired upon by about 60 shells, but none scored a direct hit.
During their three-month spell of duty off the beaches of Normandy Ernest was responsible for liaising with overhead British spotter planes and directing the guns at German targets while Johnny was based in the cordite room and was a vital ammunition supplier.
They prepared for D-Day “time and time again” but weren’t told where the action would take place until four days before.
Johnny said they were trying to fool the Germans by going to Calais.
He added: “When the action started we didn’t have time to think but when it quietened down I felt satisfied thinking it could be the end of the war.
“It was frightening though. When something happens 50 yards away from you you think that could have been me.
“One of our main worries was about our mum at home and about each other too. We were on different parts of the ship so we were trying to keep in touch with each other.”
Growing up in Silvertown Johnny and Ernest also experienced the 1940 London blitz first hand. They saw fires in Silvertown and West Ham and their home was blasted and “totally destroyed.”
Their recent award presentation took place at The Historic Dockyard Chatham, where the brothers’ returned after their three month D-Day tour.
“It’s been 70 years since it all happened and this came out of the blue,” said Johnny.
“When you look at those empty beaches in Normandy you can’t help remembering the blood shed there. When we were collecting our award we felt proud because it’s something we can leave our children to remind people we were there.”
The Lest We Forget Association is a major military charity supporting disabled ex Servicemen and Women since World War One.
The Bradford Exchange is the nation’s largest commemorative company, working exclusively with The Lest We Forget Charity, helping raise vital funds.