Shropshire Star

Tracing the memories of war veteran who cleared the way for D-Day invasion

A few years ago Nigel Brett took his cousin, war veteran Roy Garratt, to Manchester's Imperial War Museum North where they saw pictures of the D-Day landings.

Royal Marine Roy in uniform.

"I recognise that beach," said Roy.

"He then started talking about it," said Nigel.

And so, bit by bit, they began the unlocking of memories from Roy of his part at Sword Beach in the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944, about which he had previously disclosed little or nothing.

"We hadn't had any idea of this until he recognised that beach," said Adrian, Nigel’s brother.

From Roy's accounts of those momentous events a story emerged of how he literally played a leading role, guiding a specialised landing craft to the beach's edge even before the main forces landed, to help clear a way for the assault force.

Royal Marine Roy in uniform.

He was among the last of the living survivors to be able to tell the tale first-hand, and after his recent death at a Church Stretton nursing home at the age of 98 his ashes have been scattered at a favourite spot on a hill at Longville in the Dale, the village in the shadow of the Wenlock Edge where he had lived in his later years.

Roy, who hailed originally from Kings Norton in Birmingham, joined the Royal Marines as a teenager during the war.

Adrian said: "We were always uncertain of exactly what Roy did as he only ever talked about it in his later years.

"His main job was as a driver of all kinds of vehicles – tracked vehicles, lorries, landing craft, all kinds of things. From what we understand from what Roy said he was the helmsman on a landing craft at D-Day – a Landing Craft (Support) Medium – launched from the landing craft mother ship HMS Cutlass.

"At the front his landing craft had divers whose job was to cut away underwater obstacles. It also had a mortar and a machine gun turret and was one of the first craft to approach the beaches to clear the way for the landing itself.

A specialised landing craft of the type that Roy guided to the beach's edge.

"He didn't actually land on D-Day, landing two days later. He then drove with the advance through France and into Germany ending up at Kiel, one of the Baltic ports, where as part of the 116th Brigade 33rd Battalion he helped supervise the surrender of the German navy at Kiel."

Roy, who never married, ended the war as a Sergeant and in peacetime was a printer in Birmingham, moving to Shropshire after his retirement with his cousin Harold and his wife Sheila, with whom he lived.

"He told us he lost a lot of his friends during the war. He was quite a retiring guy and didn't talk about it that much."

The D-Day landings of June 6, 1944.

He had a love of music and in particular going to the opera, and would go for instance to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, was a keen gardener, and a dog lover who delighted in visits by his close friends Eddie and Rose when they bought their dog along when they came to see him in the nursing home in the last part of his life.

Shropshire D-Day veteran Roy Garratt.

While Roy had no immediate family, he had many relatives and friends that he was very close to, and Nigel said: "In his eulogy one of the things we spoke about was that he had many families – he was like father and grandfather to all kinds of people, and very well-loved by lots of people."

What little is known about his wartime role comes mainly from a conversation he had in the run up to the D-Day anniversary three years ago with a great and long-standing friend, Marianne Ratcliff, a journalist who lives in Santa Paula, California – Marianne flew over to be with him in his last days and again to attend the funeral at Emstrey Crematorium – who made some notes.

It was a rare glimpse as otherwise if she asked about the war he would put up his hand and say firmly he wasn't going to talk about it.

Marianne said: "Barbara Hall, who was Uncle Roy's companion through the Church Stretton Coco organisation, which connects seniors to volunteers, told me the touching story of how his friend was killed in an air attack when they were on an Arctic convoy, his body being buried at sea and his shipmates’ comforting words. Her husband Laurence estimates Uncle Roy may have been on the Arctic convoy in 1942.

"Uncle Roy told me and the cousins how sad it was to see begging children in Germany and not be allowed to give them anything.

"To my eternal regret, I had tickets for a fun visit with Uncle Roy just the week after he passed, also intending to try to find out more. Uncle Roy was so dear to me and my family and so full of good cheer and optimism – his most oft-heard phrase was 'All is well!'"

Sadly Roy lost his war medals and, curious to learn more about his service, Adrian, who is from Godalming in Surrey, and Nigel, who lives in Andalucia, Spain, have investigated whether it would be possible to get hold of his official military records, but have been thwarted because they are not close enough relatives to be allowed them.