In the week when the country unites to remember the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, wise words have been spoken by a veteran of the largest sea borne invasion in history.
Sitting quietly in his pristine bungalow in Woodhall Spa, 94-year-old Harry Archer has memories of those days in 1944 that have remained with him – and of which he is reminded as the anniversary is commemorated.
Still active and living independently, Harry regularly attends local clubs – in fact he has just completed a three-month ‘Fitness, Food & Friends’, run in Woodhall Spa by the community arm of the Magna Vitae Trust for Leisure and Culture and funded by T.E.D.
At the end of the weekly sessions, Harry met their joint organiser – Magna Vitae nutrition consultant Marko Humphrey, to relive his life, 75 years ago.
Harry, now a widow, was just 18 years old when he was ‘called up’ and just a few months later, aged 19, he found himself on a beach in western Scotland – following orders to take part in training for a looming operation.
The teenage mechanic and military driver had no idea of the significance of what he was about to be a part of.
Harry remembered: “It was the wintertime and we were sent up to Scotland where we practised with the landing craft on the beaches.
“We were not told what we were doing or where we were about to go; you didn’t ask, you followed the orders you were given.”
A lance corporal, Harry was a member of the communications team that landed on the section of Normandy beach code–named ‘Gold’– several days after June 6.
From there, Harry and his colleagues were responsible for guiding an 11ft Thornycroft lorry off the beaches and onto the cliff top nearby, where it was to be the hub of covert communications.
The noise is one memory that has remained with Harry all through the years.
He said: “The sound of the gunfire and bombs ..... it was deafening.
“When you landed, you just wouldn’t believe that noise.”
For Harry, fear did not really enter his head – a mixture of a youthful belief that he was invincible and a concentration on the work ahead.
He continued: “As an 18 or 19-year-old, you did not have the same fear, you did not see the danger and, as the communication was not the same as it is today, you were less aware of what was going on in the wider world.
“You were so busy too and just did not worry as much.”
After digging a massive ‘shell hole’ to disguise their huge lorry, Harry and his colleagues spent their days and nights ensuring the on-going communication among the military was kept open and found shelter in a nearby hut previously occupied by enemy troops.
He remembered: “They had fled and left everything, including all their musical instruments.”
While knowing why he was there, the enormity of the D-Day Landings was lost on him at that moment in time; he did what was necessary and returned home where he settled happily with his wife Margaret, moving to Lincolnshire from the south 25 years ago.
The couple did return to the beaches of Normandy and Harry stresses how necessary that was for him.
He said: “I went back with Margaret and it settled me.
“It was so peaceful and for me that was a good thing.
“I do find it a bit emotional at this time of the year.
“The memories start to come back, and I don’t think you ever forget certain things.”
Listening to Harry’s story, Marko had his own personal connection to the Second World War – his grandfather fought with the resistance in Holland and, after his eventual arrest, survived a prisoner of war camp.
Marco said: “Without our sessions in Woodhall Spa, myself, and others, would not have heard Harry’s story, and what shame that would have been.
“He is a simply remarkable man for his age.
“He is an inspiration.”
This round of sessions in Woodhall Spa has now finished, but others have just started in Wragby.
These are being run jointly by Marko and his colleague Erica Bowering, with more planned.
For more details visit www.magnavitae.org
Alternatively, email Marko direct at email@example.com