Private Hill's diary: A British Army medic's first-hand experience of D-Day operations

Private Hill was a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps during D-Day 80 years ago today
-Credit: (Image: Supplied)

On the 80th anniversary of D-Day, where allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, France to strike the first blow against Nazi Germany in the turning of the tide of the Second World War, a first-hand account of the fateful day has resurfaced after it was initially published in the Leicester Chronicle/Mercury in 1946.

Private Hill, a Leicester native, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) in 1939 at the onset of the Second World War. His six-year service saw him in action across Egypt, Libya, Palestine, France, Belgium and Germany.

The RAMC is a non-combatant corps where members are only permitted to use their weapons for self-defence. During WWII, they would accompany combat troops to the front line to provide specialist emergency medical care with thousands becoming casualties or prisoners themselves in the process.

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During the D-Day operation, the medical organisation and provision was significant. Doctors, Surgeons and Orderlies from the RAMC and the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps landed on the beaches alongside regular units.

Each unit had a Regimental Medical Officer and his team, while each landing craft had at least one Orderly. Stretcher bearers were assigned to pick up the wounded and transport them to stations assembled on the beaches for urgent dressings, surgery and transfusions.

Offshore, 70 of the landing crafts were designated to transport casualties back to the fleet and then on to hospitals on the south coast of England for further care. Private Hill's vivid account of D-Day, as published in The Leicester Chronicle back in October 1946, has resurfaced, providing a stark and intimate glimpse into the events of that historic day.

American wounded from the Normandy beach heads seen here arriving at a undisclosed British port on the South Coast 9th June 1944
American wounded from the Normandy beach heads seen here arriving at a undisclosed British port on the South Coast 9th June 1944 -Credit:Mirrorpix

His diary entries detail the intense conditions on the ship he was stationed on, the haunting memories of specific casualties, the relentless enemy assaults, and the daily toll of wounded soldiers they cared for. These personal records offer a unique perspective on the vital support roles that played a key part in the triumph of Operation Overlord.

Though not an official war correspondent, Private Hill's contributions joined the myriad reports from the front lines that have been chronicled in Findmypast's extensive historical newspaper archives.

In a particularly moving passage, he recounts:

"A dead American paratrooper was picked up by us and in his pocket was a poem about liberty, the last two lines being 'For I have died to-day'.." He then continues with a detailed description of the landing:

"Along the beach were a line of L.S.T.s busily unloading and left high and dry until the next tide floated them. A full moon rose to illuminate the scene. A huge fire about a quarter of a mile long was raging ashore. There were odd fires all along the coast.

"During the hours of daylight, these appeared as great plumes of smoke. At midnight, 'General Quarters' was sounded. This was the first air-raid alarm for us during the intensive operations which were to follow.

"There was a great amount of flak from the ships which were crowded together. Several bombs dropped between us and the next ship. One of my mates was injured by flying shrapnel. On the morning of June 6th, 'General Quarters' sounded again. During the night we rescued three men from the water after their small boat had overturned. An English L.S.T. fouled our stern anchor and damaged our auxiliary steering gear. On being set free it made away with our stern anchor."

Two soldiers casualties of the Normandy landings enjoy a cigarette after disembarking from the hospital ship.
June 1944.
World War II Invasion of France. Two soldiers casualties of the Normandy landings enjoy a cigarette after disembarking from the hospital ship. June 1944. -Credit:Mirrorpix

"Another air-raid alarm sounded as we went in-shore. There were several submerged tanks, wagons and cranes strewn around in the water. As battle progressed, we prepared to receive casualties aboard. They started to arrive before we were quite ready.

"I counted 79 casualties at the start. We worked all day dealing with those wounded personnel and had two hours sleep. I remember vividly an AA shell which exploded on our deck.

"The following day we pulled out on the morning tide with a convoy and during the night had a running fight with 'E Boats'. Passing the Straits of Dover we docked at Tilbury on the morning of June 9 and casualties were taken off. That night, with my two pals Hank and Franco, we had a pub-crawl. On the night of June 10 we were stood off Southend Pier with a convoy and the following day a smoke screen was laid between us and France as we went back to the Continent. We ran over a submerged tank which caused us to lose considerable quantities of oil and fuel and damaged our screw."

Private Hill's diary was originally published in the Leicester Mercury
Private Hill's diary was originally published in the Leicester Mercury -Credit:Supplied

"On June 14, 189 patients came aboard. We pulled out for an evening convoy bound for England. There were various air-raid alarms and I remember spending two hours giving nothing but hypodermic injections, anti-tetanus, anti-gas gangrene, penicillin, and morphia."

"Early on June 15, all guns were going at once. We were attacked by torpedo bombers. It was an infernal racket. Three R. A. M. C. men were killed and one injured. But we got through and we arrived at Portsmouth opposite the famous 'Victory'."

In honour of the 80th anniversary, Findmypast has made millions of its records accessible to the public for free online. This includes over 75 million newspaper pages, military records, and nearly 300 historical images of the D-Day landings within their extensive photo collection.

Jen Baldwin, Research Specialist at Findmypast, commented: "There is so much that we can still uncover about the lives and experiences of those that served in the Second World War. Forgotten accounts like this one give us the opportunity to understand the horrors of D-Day through the eyes of those who were there, but are sadly no longer with us.

"I'd encourage people across the country to delve into our newspaper pages and historical records to discover the detail of their family's wartime story from soldiers on the beach, Red Cross nurses who attended the wounded, or Home Front volunteers who offered crucial support. You can do this for free on Findmypast over the D-Day anniversary."

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