LET US NEVER FORGET THEIR SACRIFICE
‘Today this beach looks beautiful but 75 years ago it was hell on Earth’ Royal Navy veteran Matthew Toner, 93
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