NOSTALGIA: D Day through the eyes of a chef

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SUS-171227-133235001

The year 1944 seems a long time ago for some of us who remember, writes Harry Summerton, chairman of the Submariners Association.

Indeed it is a time before many people of this generation were born and yet both were truly represented when a gentleman of 94 years was honoured on December 7 last year.

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SUS-171227-133104001

He had seen the horrors of war as a young man of 22.

At the time he had wondered why men of his age and even younger had been landed in fragile boats on a hostile shore to fight foreign men of similar age in a terrible conflict.

And then, later that same day, to see them return to his ship, silently, in a body bag or wounded.

To this day he still wonders why.

Eastbourne nostalgia SUS-171227-133247001

Eastbourne nostalgia SUS-171227-133247001

Alfred Armstrong, known as Alf, was a merchant seaman, a chef serving on a coastal collier.

These small ships, a mere 2841 tonnage, were used to ferry coal around the ports of Britain and were in no way built as “ships of war”.

This however was June 1944; the Allied Forces were preparing to invade the continent of Europe to relieve that territory from the German Forces of Occupation.

Alf was chef on board this small ship and here is his story.

“We were taken into port on the south coast, the ship’s hold was emptied, cleaned and then loaded up with DUKW Amphibious Landing Craft.

“These were collapsible, flimsy looking craft, some even had canvas sides. They were stacked in the hold and lashed down.

“Later about 300 American troops arrived and coming up the gangplank they looked young and tired.

“They were overloaded with equipment, the only food that they had with them was their “K Rations”.

“Luckily there were two chefs in their number, they came along to the galley to give me a hand, and one was a baker. Between us we managed to make hot soup and hot bread rolls for the lads, they were so grateful. We kept that soup going for as long as we could.

“D-Day, on the way to France, the weather was a bit rough, there were ships everywhere, and the sky was full of planes. German aircraft attempted to attack us but were shot down.

“We neared the beach at Omaha. So much has been written about what happened here that there is not much more to say. The cliffs were so high, the poor men could not get off the beach, landing craft were at the mercy of the German guns, the shore defences appeared to be untouched, out at sea a British battle ship was blasting away but the shells were exploding too far inland, no effect at all.

“By late afternoon the wounded were being ferried back to us, a sight I never wish to see again. When we were fully loaded we made the hazardous trip back to England. After a couple of day’s rest and tidying up of the ship, we were sailing back again to Normandy this time full of supplies. It was the same all over again.

“I shall never forget those young men, some had never seen war before, and they went into it blindfolded.”

Alfred Armstrong was present at the Fishermen`s Club on this occasion with his family and many other guests.

He was to be presented with the highest honour that France could give to a foreign national; he was to receive the Award of Chevalier de l`Ordre National de la Legion Honneur.

The chairman of the Royal Naval Association, Eastbourne, John Wicking and Harry Summerton, the chairman of the Submariners Association, Sussex, welcomed honoured guests.

They included Consul Honoraire de France Captain Francois Jean, deputy lieutenant Tim Cobb, Eastbourne mayor Pat Hearn and Stephen Lloyd MP.

The Standards of the Royal Naval Association, Red Ensign Group, Eastbourne and Maritime Volunteer Service were present on parade.

The deputy lieutenant opened the proceedings with details of Mr Armstrong`s brave participation and service on D-Day.

He then introduced Captain Jean who gave the detail and importance of the award and its meaning to the recipient.

He then presented the medal to Mr Armstrong.

The ceremony concluded spectacularly by Mr Armstrong thanking Captain Jeanand the French people for the honour bestowed upon him and to the delight of the audience this speech was given in French.

He then gave the same speech in his native tongue and thanked everybody for attending.

Needless to say there was great applause for this fine gentleman.