Stories from the Longe Est Day; William Leece Talks to Veterans of Normandy 65 Years after the Epic of the D-Day Invasion of France

Article excerpt

Byline: William Leece

HISTORIANS will argue for ever about the exact point when the Second World War finally tipped against Nazi Germany and its allies.

Not that anyone knew it at the time but it might have come as early as 1940 when the Germans called off their invasion of Britain.

But for the men and women in the Allied streets, the point when the end finally came in sight was at another invasion: D-Day.

This was the time, 65 years ago tomorrow, when Allied troops poured ashore in their thousands into northern France.

Many of the Mersey soldiers in the biggest invasion ever seen were in two battalions of the Kings Regiment: the 5th at Sword beach, near Caen, and the 8th at Juno beach, further west.

In the Support Company of 5th Kings Regiment, temporary Captain Bobby Fachiri was surprisingly calm.

"It wasn't as terrifying as I thought it would be," the 89-yearold former Bank of England official and later professional artist recalls at his home in south Wirral.

"As we landed it was pretty chaotic, not as chaotic as I thought it might have been as people had been well organised." Bobby Fachiri's task was to man a six-pounder gun, to try and hold off the Panzer division that was trying in vain to halt the relentless advance. "Bloody good soldiers they were, very brave and well-trained," he remembers of the enemy.

He was to win the Military Cross for his part in D-Day and later. The citation in the London Gazette reads: "Landing in Normandy on the morning of 6th June 1944 with six anti-tank guns, positions were taken forward of Hermanville-sur-Mer.

By his skill and determination, these guns remained in position for six days in spite of penetration of enemy patrols to the rear and constant sniping." A few miles inland, Frank Skillicorn had been fighting the Germans even before the first infantryman had stepped off his landing craft.

As a paratrooper with 6th Airborne Division, he had been dropped around midnight near the French village of Ranville.

Their aim was to secure the crossings over the River Orne to frustrate German attempts to bring in reinforcements The former apprentice motor mechanic from Liverpool was his platoon's explosives expert. The aim was to sabotage communications by bringing telegraph poles down..

Casualties were frightening.

Out of 36 in his platoon, dropped in four sticks of nine parachutists, just one remained unscathed after a fortnight - the rest, including Frank, killed or wounded.

The unscathed soldier was eventually awarded the Military Medal. "I think if he'd been wounded and I hadn't, I might have got the MM," Frank, now 85, observes without any bitterness at his home in Liverpool's Georgian quarter. "They didn't like pinning medals on people who got bits and pieces missing and not the whole person." The fighting was vicious and bloody. After two days seven of them had scavenged extra weaponry from fallen soldiers of both sides, and took cover when they saw a German column of 50 soldiers.

"There was a slight slope ahead of us, and they were marching like they were on a parade ground," he remembers.

"The sergeant said 'You start from the left, you start from the right, you start from the middle and go outwards and then come back inwards. …