Eric Walker, aged 99, signed up to serve his country just before his 18th birthday. Now living in Bridge Wood, beside the River Orwell and on the outskirts of Ipswich, he vividly remembers D-Day.

“I was in 5th Maritime Artillery Regiment based at Shoeburyness Essex.  Our purpose normally was to provide anti-aircraft fire on cargo ships. So, although army, we were seagoing jointly with the Royal Navy.

“I was assigned to a Great Lakes iron ore carrier brought over especially from Canada. The reason this was brought over was because of its design.  It was flat-bottomed so that it could be beached at high tide and would stay upright on the beach to be easy for unloading. 

East Anglian Daily Times: A young Eric Walker, proudly wearing his uniform. Image: Eric WalkerA young Eric Walker, proudly wearing his uniform. Image: Eric Walker (Image: Eric Walker)

“Also, the bridge for steering and some cabins were right at the front whilst the engine was right at the back. This gave a long length of open space to transport lorries and tanks. There was a disadvantage to this arrangement for us crew, as we found out later.

“On D-Day 2 [for D-Day marked the beginning of Operation Overlord, which went on for several months] we transported part of the 51st Highland Division to Sword Beach. 

“This went reasonably smoothly, and we returned to England for a second cargo.  We arrived back on D-Day +4.  I remember being able to go ashore to a French café on the beach at Lion-sur-Mer which had actually reopened! So, things must have been quiet at that bridgehead with an advancement well on land. We went back to England for a third cargo and arrived back in France on D-Day +10 – and then the fireworks for us began.

“As usual, we had beached and so could not move as the tide went down. Unfortunately, this time we were on the most northerly beach and so we were within range of German long-range guns. 

“Later in the day, after we had unloaded but were still beached although the tide was rising, they began to send shells in our direction and their aim got better.  

“Most missed, but one landed a hit not far from me and splinters badly wounded another soldier who died whilst I was holding him. No more shells hit us and later, we refloated and were able to return to England.”