On the 80th anniversary of D-Day, a new book recalls the exploits of 13 Tyneside war heroes

British troops landing on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day, June 6, 1944
-Credit: (Image: Mirrorpix)

June 6 will mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day - a pivotal moment in the story of our nation.

In one of the most momentous and ambitious military operations in history, a huge international Allied task force would land on the heavily defended beaches of Normandy and establish a foothold, before driving into France and pushing Hitler’s forces back into Germany. World War II had been raging since September 1939, and the successful D-Day operation would decisively change the course of the conflict, turning the tide against Nazi tyranny which had left millions dead and displaced across Europe and other points around the globe.

By early June 1944, tens of thousands of Allied troops, including many from North East England, were massed on England’s South Coast. The top-secret plan was to land them on five separate Normandy beaches - the Americans on Utah and Omaha, the British on Gold, and the British and Canadians on Juno and Sword. The invasion was originally set for June 5, but storms in the English Channel meant it was postponed for 24 hours. A day later, the biggest military operation of all time got underway, involving 156,000 men, 10,000 vehicles, and 7,000 ships.

When ‘the longest day’ finally drew to a close, a beachhead had been established and the Germans repelled. The Allies had lost 10,000 - killed, wounded or missing in action - with enemy casualties between 4,000 and 9,000. There was a long way to go, and much blood still to be spilled - but it was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.

On the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the stories of 13 Tyneside heroes are being told by family members. A new book, South Shields Heroes of World War II – Their Finest Hour, brings together the accounts of men, women and children from the town and their experiences during the conflict. Terry Ford of South Shields Local History Group has recorded and transcribed more than 50 stories while writing the book.

It started as part of an Oxford University project called Their Finest Hour, which aimed to record memories of the 1939-45 war. As the recordings were being made, it became clear the stories needed to be compiled into a book. The stories span most of the main theatres of war: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, North Africa, the Far East, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Home Front. They cover the various branches of the armed forces - Army, Royal Navy and RAF, as well as the Merchant Navy and civilians. The contributors are mainly sons, daughters, nephews, nieces and grandchildren of the heroes - and in a few cases they tell their own stories.

The D-Day stories include Douglas Gunson who was at Normandy on an ammunition ship; John Gaffney who landed on Gold beach and died near Bayeux; Tabet Mohamed who received his second British Empire Medal for bravery after leaving Arromanches beach; William Harvey who supported the D-Day operations onboard SS Kyloe and was the last seaman to die in the war leaving behind six children; Chris Bage who was captured near Pegasus Bridge; and Denis Clarke who commanded the landing ship HMLST402 which offloaded tanks on to the Normandy beaches.

How the Newcastle Evening Chronicle reported on the events of D-Day, June 6, 1944
The book ‘South Shields Heroes of World War II - Their Finest Hour’ by Terry Ford is available from June 6

Other accounts include those of Stanley Ramsey who spent five years in a POW camp doing slave labour, and was then forced to walk nearly 1,000 miles on a ‘long march’. Richard “Dick” Annand won one of the first Victoria Crosses of the war. Eleanor Miles, a 99-year-old former Wren, tells her own story. On the Home Front, meanwhile, Kaid Abdullah was a member of the National Fire Service and was proud to shake hands with the Queen.

One of the contributors Ann Clouston, Colonel (Retired) OBE ARRC TD DL VR, said: “Every November, the words ‘we will remember them’ are spoken, but as time goes by, they are less and less remembered. This book brings together the real stories of the real people of South Shields in their own words. Not just the military stories, but the impact the war had on women and children. A fantastic initiative by South Shields Local History Group has ensured that we will remember them.”

South Shields Heroes of World War II – Their Finest Hour by Terry Ford is available from June 6 at The Word, South Shields, and online at The Great British Bookshop. The book is priced at £10. Terry is also the producer of the DVD The Pubs of South Shields, and is the IT Officer for South Shields Local History Group.