On today’s 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, a former Lynn serviceman has shared his experiences of being involved in the Allied operation.
Now aged 91, Dennis Dent was then in charge of a crew operating 12 anti-aircraft guns on the Royal Navy ship, HMS Belfast.
And it was from that vessel that the first shot of the assault was fired in the early hours of June 6, 1944.
But Dennis maintains he was one of the lucky ones on a ship initially stationed several miles off the Normandy coast.
He said he was proud of what he and his fellow servicemen did there, but added on the significance of the anniversary: “It’s the fact that I came through it unscathed.
“There were 19,000 soldiers killed on the very first day. All we had was a little bit of shrapnel from one of the bombs they were dropping on us.”
By 1944, Dennis was already a veteran of four years of warfare, having joined up the day after his 18th birthday in 1940.
Initially serving aboard HMS Edinburgh, he survived when it was sunk by German U-boats in 1942, during one of the Arctic convoy missions to deliver supplies to the Soviet Union.
And when Dennis and his crewmates took up their positions at 4am 70 years ago, it was the start of several weeks of operations, as they attacked German positions in support of the invading ground forces.
But, although they had been training off the west coast of Scotland prior to joining the fleet off the French Atlantic coast, Dennis recalled knowing “nothing” of what was to come ahead of the invasion.
The enormity of the mission they were taking part in only started to become apparent on the eve of D-Day itself.
An entry in Dennis’ diary on that day, June 5, records an admiral and the ship’s captain telling the crew: “Tomorrow is D-Day and invasion starts 0515.”
Another entry, written on D-Day itself, talks of: “Ships of every description in every direction as far as the eye can see – from small assault craft to big troopers.”
As the sea bombardment continued, word soon came back to the Belfast that her crew had fired the first shot of the attack.
Asked how he felt when he heard that, Dennis said: “The show was on the road.
“It was very exciting. You wondered if you were going to come out of it, as you do, and we were off the beaches for about five weeks.”
As the invasion progressed further inland, the Belfast moved closer to the beach as it was called upon to attack targets up to five miles away from the coastline.
And Dennis recalled that, at one point, there was just two feet of water between the bottom of the ship and the bottom of the sea itself.
Dennis will be watching today’s commemorations from his home in Hospital Walk as he continues his recovery from a heart attack he suffered last month.
But, having survived the Second World War, he is able to see the best of his situation.
“I’ve said many, many times the next illness I get will be the first. I’ve never been ill in my life.”
n A remembrance service, organised by Lynn’s Royal British Legion branch, will be held in Tower Gardens today at 11am.