War veteran: "I served on D-Day with David Niven"

Echo: Charles Holden with his Second World War medals and his father's medals during the First World War Charles Holden with his Second World War medals and his father's medals during the First World War

A NAVY veteran has shared his recollections of the Normandy landings and described how he and other brave servicemen dodged gunfire on D-Day.

Charles Holden, 90, of Plumberow Avenue, was a gunner on HMS Cutlass which transported 12 of the landing craft assault boats to France for the epic battle on June 6 1944.

After dropping off the ships, the vessel carrying Mr Holden who turns 91 on Monday then came under attack itself.

He said: “As we were going back we started getting shelled.

“They were hitting us and getting closer and closer and I think one more hit would have seen the end of us.

“But luckily a destroyer ship from the Royal Navy suddenly came up from the side of us and starting pumping smoke out to cover us, which saved us.

“Not long after we got torpedoed as well. It was only three days before my 21st birthday and I thought I didn’t want to die on that day.”

In the build-up to the operation, Mr Holden said the whole atmosphere was tense on board the boat.

He recalls there were some famous faces among the survivors, including a film star and a lord who helped keep the troops spirits up on Normandy’s beaches and on the homeward journey.

As they finally made it back to Cowes in the Isle of Wight, pent up emotion spilled out.

Mr Holden said: “There were 1,500 personnel onboard but not a lot was said.

“We had David Niven with us along with Lord Lovett, who played his bagpipes on the beach and a couple of numbers on the boat.

“When we got back to Cowes everyone in the harbour was cheering us in and I started welling up because I had trained for four months with the soldiers on the ship and a lot them had died.

“As sad as it was, we all know it was a job that had to be done and without it, we wouldn’t have won the war.”

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