Injured on a battlefield in Normandy shell attack

Normandy veteran, Stanley Dickinson
Normandy veteran, Stanley Dickinson
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Stanley Dickinson was still in England when the first landings took place on D-Day.

He had been a solider since September 1942 and at the time was based in Sheringham, in Norfolk.

The soldiers knew an invasion was planned, but they had no idea where and when it would take place.

On June 6, 1944, the men were told to pack up and be ready to leave later that day.

An announcement on the radio revealed the landings had taken place on the Normandy beaches.

Stanley travelled to a large marshalling area near Woodford, Essex, and three days later – known as D+3 – he set off for France.

He sailed on the SS Empire Gladstone as part of a convoy and heard the gunfire as the vessel approached Normandy.

Stanley, of St Hilda’s Close, Chorley, recalled: “I was no bred in the bones solider, more a civilian in uniform.

“All this noise and it was a great comfort to see it was all ours. The battleships and everything else were aiming at targets inland.”

It was D+7 before the SS Empire Gladstone could drop its anchor a mile or two from the coast.

The next day, a landing craft pulled alongside the ship to transport the troops.

Stanley, now 90, said: “They ordered us to go over the side, climb down the rope ladder and on to the deck of the landing craft.”

The craft landed and Royal Navy officers told the soldiers to leave the beach as soon as possible.

Stanley said: “The first signs of the enemy that I saw were these boards painted black and on them was painted a skull and the words ‘Achtung minen’ – ‘Attention mines’.

“There were millions and millions of mines in the land and the water.

“The signs were for the benefit of German troops and the French civilians, as life had to go on each day.

“We drove a couple of miles to our designated place. We were not required to engage the enemy.”

Thousands of troops had been deployed to France and Stanley was sent to a farmer’s field.

He said: “I was one of those detailed for first shift on guard duty. I had to patrol this hedge in the dark from 2200 to midnight.

“I’m only 20, I have never fired a shot or been on a battlefield.

“I was wondering who or what might be on the other side of the hedge.

“If you heard an unexpected noise, you froze and the hair on the back of your neck stood up.

“The bombardment from the battleships was continuing and we could see it and hear it.

“At night, the Luftwaffe came and started firing. It was some firework display.”

Stanley’s two hours of guard duty passed uneventfully and he went to sleep.

It was D+10 that proved to be the most significant day of the war for Stanley.

He said: “We were about five miles inland near the village of Ducy-Sainte-Marguerite.

“We had spent that morning digging, setting up the gun positions and delivering boxes of ammunition.

“We had been firing for about half an hour when there was a loud bang just above my head. In that same moment, there was a violent pain in my leg.

“A high explosive shell had hit a branch of a tree and exploded in the air and I was hit.

“It took away a chunk of my leg and I fell down. I looked down and saw this nasty, horrible, bloody mess.”

Stanley shouted for his comrades, who gathered around him to help.

He said: “Within a minute there was another loud bang overhead and a searing pain in my other leg. The same thing had happened.”

Somehow, Stanley was the only person badly injured by the shell, with one other solider suffering a minor flesh wound to his shoulder.

The men put dressings on Stanley and he was carried away on a stretcher.

He was taken to the medical corps, where the soldiers placed him on the grass and carried on with their duties.

Stanley said: “My feelings, apart from the discomfort, were a mix of surprise at this sudden change in my situation and what I can only describe as frustration.

“All this build up and I did nothing but dig a few holes.”

Stanley was taken in an ambulance by women from the army’s nursing corps to a field hospital.

He said: “The place was full. Men were being brought in and taken out again.

“These ladies were going at it full throttle. They were professional and knew what they were doing.

“I lay there for some time and then a nurse came and stuck a needle in me.”

Stanley was operated on and the next morning, he was flown back to England.

He was taken to hospital in Stratton St Margaret, Wiltshire, before being taken to Birmingham by train.

Stanley said: “The platforms were full of people going home after a day’s work. It took forever to unload us all to the waiting ambulances.”

He spent seven weeks at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Edgbaston, had two more operations and spent the rest of 1944 at a convalescence and rehabilitation hospital, where he had to learn how to walk.

He said: “I shared a ward with some real heroes – tank drivers who had suffered serious burns. They must have been in real agony.”

Stanley was allowed to leave the hospital at weekends and managed to hitchhike all the way home to Chorley on a bus driven by an American soldier, who happened to be going to Washington Lane, Euxton.

He said: “He dropped me off at the Big Lamp and I walked home.”

Stanley was classed as unfit for active service but he still had duties with the army as the war came to an end.

He was posted to Horsham, in West Sussex, in April 1945 to deal with released prisoners of war.

Stanley said: “Thousands and thousands of our lads were being freed from enemy prisoner of war camps.

“Some had been prisoners for five years, since Dunkirk, and were emaciated.

“Some were utterly bewildered and didn’t know where they were.”

At last the end of the war came with VE Day – May 8, 1945.

Stanley was sent home from work early and marked the end of the war alone.

He said: “I went for a quiet little ride on my bike. I wasn’t in the mood for partying.

“What a lovely day it was. There was very little traffic, because no one could afford petrol.

“I cycled along the lanes and the sky was blue overhead.

“I had to struggle to make myself believe the war was over. I had struggles with the thoughts of all the people who had been left behind.”

Stanley was demobbed in 1947 and at the age of 24, he had to start his life again.

He returned to Chorley, got a job in the civil service and met Margaret, who became his wife in 1954.

Stanley, now a grandfather, still feels the effects of his injuries and in 1972 he had an operation to remove parts of the shell from his leg.

He has returned to Normandy eight times in the past 20 years and would like to visit one last time.

And 70 years after D-Day, he is determined that those who served their country are not forgotten.

He said: “I’m immensely proud of what the people of this country did and endured and lost and sacrificed for freedom.”