‘To­day this beach looks beau­ti­ful but 75 years ago it was hell on Earth’ Royal Navy vet­eran Matthew Toner, 93

Daily Express - - Front Page - From John Ing­ham De­fence Ed­i­tor, in Nor­mandy

D-DAY vet­eran Matthew Toner gazes across the golden beaches of Nor­mandy in si­lent trib­ute to the fear­less sol­diers who sac­ri­ficed their lives fight­ing for free­dom.

On June 6 1944, the sand was stained in blood. Dur­ing his first trip back since that har­row­ing day, the Royal Navy hero, 93, said: “It was such a beau­ti­ful beach but 75 years ago it was hell on Earth.”

For Matthew be­ing once again in Nor­mandy was

deeply emo­tional, bring­ing mem­o­ries of the day thou­sands of troops massed off­shore to breach Hitler’s for­mi­da­ble At­lantic Wall.

At 7.30am he be­gan fer­ry­ing Cana­dian sol­diers ashore on Juno beach in an LST land­ing craft, tak­ing them into the teeth of in­tense Ger­man fire.

The 18-year-old’s job was to open his land­ing craft’s doors so the sol­diers aboard, most of them sea­sick, could storm ashore.

Matthew, from West Kirby on Mersey­side, told the Daily Ex­press: “I had to get the troops out as safely as pos­si­which was a feat in it­self. “Straight away there was heavy gun­fire, the stench of burn­ing flesh and body parts float­ing past. The sea was just red. At one point the land­ing craft’s door was blocked by a dead body stuck in the hinges and we had to re­move it.

“Our of­fi­cers were scream­ing or­ders but we could not hear them.All you could hear was gun­fire and men scream­ing like an­i­mals.”

Some land­ing craft opened their doors too early and too far from the beach and many of the heav­ily armed sol­diers drowned. But Matthew said: “Our cap­tain wanted to give the troops a fight­ing chance so we backed our land­ing craft right up on to the beach.” Time and again Matthew and his crew re­turned to the blood-soaked front line. He said: “Over about 10 hours we made about 20 trips.

“D-Day was my fourth in­va­sion – I’d taken part in Si­cily, Salerno and Anzio – and it was the worst one.”

To­day Theresa May will join French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron to in­au­gu­rate Bri­tain’s Nor­mandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer while Prince Charles and his wife Camilla will join hun­ble dreds of vet­er­ans at com­mem­o­ra­tions at Bayeux’s Cathe­dral and a Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion ceme­tery.

Pres­i­dent Trump is ex­pected to pay his re­spects at the US war ceme­tery. And Bri­tish D-Day vet­er­ans all at least in their 90s, will march through the beach town of Ar­ro­manches. There will be pomp and cer­e­mony. But for Matthew his visit to the beaches was a pri­vate time to think of the men who didn’t come home.

He said: “Re­turn­ing was very emo­tional. I can re­mem­ber it like it was yes­ter­day.”

Matthew Toner in his Navy uni­form as a war­time sailor

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