Peter Smoothy D-Day Landings veteran Royal Navy Writer CREDIT Taxi Charity
Peter Smoothy (Picture: Taxi Charity).
D-Day

'If our names are on a bullet, it's our bad luck': WW2 veteran recalls memories of D-Day

Peter Smoothy D-Day Landings veteran Royal Navy Writer CREDIT Taxi Charity
Peter Smoothy (Picture: Taxi Charity).

A 97-year-old D-Day veteran has told of his memories of the Normandy Landings, 78 years after thousands of allied servicemen took part in Operation Overlord, helping to turn the tide of the Second World War. 

On 6 June 1944, Peter Smoothy was a 19-year-old Royal Navy Writer and part of a crew of 99 men on a landing ship which headed across The English Channel to the codenamed 'Juno Beach' - one of the five beaches used by Allied forces in the Second World War landing. The others were codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold and Sword. 

Speaking before heading to Normandy, Mr Smoothy, who at just 15 had been a messenger in Kent during the Battle of Britain and who later in his Royal Navy career served in Italy and Burma, said: "We were all very young men and said at the time, 'If our names are on a bullet, it's our bad luck' – we were lucky that our names weren't." 

The Royal Navy veteran's landing ship carried 28 tanks on the inner deck, 40 to 45 lorries on the upper deck and 200 soldiers who were drivers and crew for the vehicles. 

Mr Smoothy's emotive D-Day memories are a powerful reminder of the danger these men faced on that fateful day, 78 years ago.

He said: "We were scheduled to unload our valuable cargo of vehicles and men on Juno beach at 7:30 am but the beach had not been cleared so we waited for an hour, two miles offshore for the beach to be cleared so that we could find space to unload. 

"There were shells flying all around us and we were lucky not to be hit but of course, we were just one of thousands of boats."

However, these men were about to face a different type of bad luck – at low tide, their landing craft became stranded.

He said: "When we finally got to the beach, it took us three to four hours to unload with shells whizzing over our heads and when we were ready to leave, the tide had ebbed, and we couldn’t get off. 

"Fortunately for us, an empty ship isn’t really a target for the enemy, so we spent the day on the beach without being hit and only heard two air raid warnings. 

"During that wait by the shore, two hundred German prisoners of war were brought to our ship. After searching them, we put them on the inner deck where they sat quietly smoking, and not causing us any problems, probably very relieved that for them the war was over and they were safe. 

"We finally got off the beach at 7pm that evening, returned to Southampton, dropped the POW’s reloaded and headed straight back to Juno the next day." 

Thanks to the Taxi Charity - which is run by volunteer London black taxi drivers and has been supporting thousands of veterans of all ages since 1948 by helping them travel for free to commemorations in the Netherlands, Belgium and France - Mr Smoothy was able to attend D-Day commemorations this year and pay his respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and did not return home alive. 

This is not the first time the veteran has returned to Normandy for a D-Day anniversary. Speaking with Forces News in 2014, Mr Smoothy expressed how important it was for him to be there in person to pay his respects, saying: "I always think about the lads that didn't come back. They're the biggest thing in my memory. 

"I'm nearly 90 now so I was nearly 20 on D-Day and those of us that are still here well we thank our luck that we are and life goes on. 

"We've had the most of it and this is the 70th. I don't know how many more years and celebrations they'll allow us to take." 

Watch: Peter Smoothy speaks with Forces News reporter Tim Cooper in 2014 about how important it is to remember his fallen comrades on the D-Day Landings anniversary.

In April, the Taxi Charity was concerned Mr Smoothy might not be able to attend the D-Day commemorations this year when there were delays in getting his passport to him. 

Thanks to Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, and a media campaign organised by the Taxi Charity, the passport was collected in time for Peter to travel to Wageningen in the Netherlands in May to mark the Dutch Liberation Day. 

Peter Smoothy D-Day Veteran and Gillian Concannon London Cab Driver and Taxi Charity Volunteer CREDIT Taxi Charity
Peter Smoothy and Gillian Concannon pose for a photo while on their way to The Netherlands in May (Picture: Taxi Charity).

Gillian Concannon, a London cab driver and Taxi Charity volunteer, spoke of her work with the voluntary organisation before heading off to France this year with Mr Smoothy and said: "I have been volunteering for the Taxi Charity for seven years and have got to know Peter very well. 

"I think the most moving moments of the trip for both Peter and I will be the visit to the Juno Beach Centre on 5 June and the D-Day Ceremony at Ranville CWGC on the 78th Anniversary of D-Day. 

"It is an absolute privilege to drive these brave men and women and the volunteer cab drivers feel honoured to call these WWII veterans friends."