Time of reflection for Morecambe war heroes as UK marks D-Day’s 75th anniversary

Douglas Jack Russell with his Legion d'Honneur medal
Douglas Jack Russell with his Legion d'Honneur medal

Three World War Two heroes from Morecambe and Heysham are among the veterans who will be pausing to reflect this week as the 75th anniversary of the D-day landings is marked.

June 6 marks 75 years since the D-Day landings – the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War Two.

Former Paratrooper Jack Bracewell.

Former Paratrooper Jack Bracewell.

Codenamed Operation Neptune and often referred to as D-Day, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history.

Allied forces launched a combined naval, air and land assault on Nazi-occupied France. The beach landings marked the start of a long and costly campaign to liberate north west Europe from German occupation.

With a huge force of more than 150,000 soldiers, the Allies attacked and gained a victory that became the turning point for World War Two in Europe.

And for three of our own war heroes, this week will be a time for reflection on what they went through and friends that didn’t come home.

Jack Bracewell and Jack Russell, both from Morecambe, and Philip Broomhead, who lives in Heysham, were all serving during the war as young men.

Their part in the landings earned them the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest military honour.

Jack Bracewell was a driver in the Royal Army Service Corps when he landed at Gold Beach on D-Day on June 6 1944, having been called up at the age of 19.

His troop landed at Gold Beach near Bayeux on D-Day, where his job was to deliver supplies to other troops.

Jack Bracewell with daughter Lynne Shelling during their trip to London.

Jack Bracewell with daughter Lynne Shelling during their trip to London.

“I am just an ordinary bloke, I just did what hundreds of others did,” he said.

“I came through it and I was lucky, I don’t doubt that.

“We lost a lot of good lads.”

As part of the 75th anniversary celebrations, Jack and his daughter Lynne Shelling took a trip to London, where they attended the Queen’s garden party as well as the Chelsea Flower Show for the opening of a D-Day garden.

Jack Bracewell during his recent trip to London.

Jack Bracewell during his recent trip to London.

Jack was among 75 veterans invited to attend and share their stories and experiences with the Chelsea Pensioners and the public, as well as Princess Beatrice.

It had been hoped that Jack would also visit Normandy again this week, but was unable to do so due to feeling unwell.

Lynne said: “The two days were fantastic.

“The garden has now been gifted to the town of Arromanches Normandy in France where dad landed on Gold beach, so it was very moving for him.

“Dad has been very moved that a tribute such as this has been done and will reside where he landed all those years ago.

“I find it vey emotional and hope to take his five great-grandchildren to Normandy to see where he landed.

Jack Bracewell at the D-Day Garden.

Jack Bracewell at the D-Day Garden.

“Dad is now 96 years old and will very likely not return to France as he has done in the past due to age and failing health, so this trip was hugely important to him and an opportunity to have time in the garden in quiet reflection.”

Fellow veteran Philip Broomhead admitted that “most of the time you were frightened to death”.

“It’s not an experience I’d want anyone to go through because you never knew what was around the corner,” he said.

Philip joined the West Yorks Territorial Army in April 1939 just a few months before the outbreak of World War Two.

His ship landed in the first wave of D-Day on Gold Beach at 7.25am.

“We all had a saying, ‘You’ll be alright if it hasn’t got your name on it,’ meaning the bullet or shell coming towards you isn’t for you. It was a light-hearted way of passing it off,” he said.

When Jack Russell arrived at Sword Beach in Normandy on the morning of June 11 1944, he was filled with excitement.

“We thought, this is it; this is the real thing,” he said.

Jack joined the army in 1941 at the age of 19 and was part of the 504th Infantry Brigade of the 43rd Wessex Infantry Division.

He served with his regiment around the Kent coast until they were called up to D-Day.

Jack, whose job was to find and decontaminate drinking water for nearly 100 frontline fighters, landed with his regiment on the sixth day of the operation.

The 97-year-old said: “You could see the shells exploding onto the land. A lot of people say, were you scared? But you’re just apprehensive about what’s going to happen, and a bit excited.

“The Germans didn’t want to fight any more than we did but they had no option. We’re all human beings; we just talk different languages, that’s all.

“They were just flesh and blood like we were and it shows how stupid war is, absolutely stupid.”

Jack will travel to Normandy this week as part of the commemorations, along with his wife Joan and carer Lynn.

It had initially been feared that the couple would be unable to make the trip due to Joan having dementia, but travel firm Arena Travel has arranged the trip for them.

They will visit the sites of the D-Day landings before stopping off for a night in London.

The couple’s daughter Hazel Guy said: “My dad is very pleased he can go and really looking forward to it. It could be the last time he goes as he’s nearly 98.

“He never talks about the war much to me and my sister Helen. He thinks, ‘what’s done is done and it’s happened’.

“But now is his chance to talk to people about it. Nobody can imagine war like the people who’ve been and fought there. They can relate to him and he can let his emotions out. The trip will bring back memories for him.”