D-Day 70th anniversary: Memory remains for Leeds veteran

D-Day veteran Jack Mortimer from Seacroft, Leeds. PIC: Tony Johnson
D-Day veteran Jack Mortimer from Seacroft, Leeds. PIC: Tony Johnson
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Veteran Jack Mortimer can still remember the smoky haze that fell over the beaches of Normandy as thousands of men fought for their King and country.

It may be seven decades since 61,000 British soldiers stormed the beaches of France as part of the D-Day Landings - but for the 90-year-old it seems just like yesterday.

Today he will be stepping back on those beaches alongside hundreds of comrades to remember the thousands of brave soldiers who never returned back home 70 years ago.

Mr Mortimer was in the Sixth Beach Group Ordnance Corps and he was one of thousands to land on Sword Beach to advance to Caen.

He was tasked with making sure the frontline had the right equipment to help British soldiers liberate France in one of the most pivotal Western European battles of the Second World War.

He said: “There were thousands and thousands of soldiers as well as thousands and thousands of ships that day.

“It was a great adventure but with that came the dangers of adventure.

“D-Day was a colossal happening really - it was all muck and bullets.

“It was smoky and there were shells streaming over our heads from the big boats out in the Channel.

“People just don’t realise how many ships and boats were there.

“It wasn’t easy and it was dangerous. There were snipers around.

“It was very noisy, smelly and smokey and I can remember there were quite a few wounded about.

“It was the start of the beginning of the end of the war.”

Jack, who was born in Morley, was just 20-years-old when he crossed the Channel after receiving his call-up papers in September 1943.

The build-up to the invasion started in September when he was sent alongside hundreds of troops to train on Scottish beaches.

Jack was faced with the task of driving a jeep with a trailer of ammunition across the beaches of Normandy to help equip soldiers for the liberation of France.

He said: “I was frightened to death running off the big ramp from the boat and I was nervous.

“I drove the jeep with a trailer of ammunition off the big ship on to what we called the alligator which is like a big raft.

“It was barely light but everyone just seemed to know what they had to do.

“I can be thankful we didn’t know a lot that was going on but everyone knew where they needed to go.

“Every fighting soldier had maybe six or seven others behind him making sure he has got what he wants.

“What good is a tank without patrol or a rifle without a bullet?

“We had the job of making the beach secure so that everything for the front was distributed.

“But at the end of the day we were all trained to be fighters.”

Jack and his devoted wife Flo, 89. first went back to the beaches in 2004 to retrace his steps and remember his fallen comrades.

He said: “It was a very emotional experience.

“You end up thinking about a lot of things that happened as well as what could have happened.

“But the main reason I am going back is to pay tribute and remember those who never came back.

“They were all heroes.”

Flo, who has been married to Jack for nearly 70 years, added: “When Jack got back on the coach he was upset because he was the only one there who had actually been there on D-Day.

“When you think back those boys walked over the remains of men and it all comes back to them about what they saw on that beach.

“You don’t think about it when you are there that there are all those men had lost their life.”

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