D-Day memories, Dewi Browne

D-Day memories, Dewi Browne

Dewi Browne, able seaman, Merchant Navy, August 1944

Dewi Browne remembers D-Day

Dewi Browne was born in Wanganui in 1920 and went to sea on merchant ships in 1937. In 1944 he joined a small hospital ship, the Lady Connaught, which was sent to support the Allied landings at Normandy. The ship had a British crew and American medical staff.

Transcript of the interview

The preparations for Normandy were so extensive. Six months maybe, could be a year before Normandy, a seaman could arrive at his port for a job, and the official would say, 'Do you want to be a V-man' I think it meant volunteer – you could go anywhere, any place, any time. 'Yes, OK.' From then on, the front of your identity card had a big red V on it. Well, towards the tail end of May 1944, my Scotch buddy and I got offered a job in Glasgow. And the official says, 'V-men?' 'Yep.' 'Righto, I'll send you down to see the mate of a ship at Partick', [near] Glasgow. We go along there, and the ship was being prepared. It was being converted to a hospital ship. You'd never seen such chaos in all your life, wires everywhere.

The chief mate, a tall English chap, looks down at us little fellows and says, 'You know anything about small boats?' My mate, he'd been used to going out to sea after lobster creels up near Aberdeen, and he says, 'Aye'. And then I remembered, what about me, all my years on boats on the Whanganui River. And, by gum, I never let the team down one little bit. We were trained as boatmen you see, to run into the beaches and pick up these wounded off the beach. They were specially built boats. They were fitted out to carry seven wounded on stretchers, on slide-in fittings, and we could also take four walking wounded as well, so that's 11. But after the first once or twice we hardly ever did that. [Instead, the wounded] were brought alongside in big barges.

For Operation Neptune – the maritime component of Overlord, the D-Day landings – the Allies assembled the largest armada in history: 1200 naval vessels, over 800 merchant ships and more than 4000 landing craft, supported by 13,000 aircraft.

It was the most astounding thing. On the way over I had two thoughts uppermost: goodness me, there's not that many ships in the whole world; and the other thing, all these planes going over by the hundreds, all going the same way. I thought, they're all ours. And I thought, I know who's winning the war now.

The weather had cleared up by this time and we were just ambling along the beach, three hospital ships in a line, small ships, and I'm at the wheel. The third ship, he decided he'd take our place, so we just marked time, and he took our place, and we dropped back. Three ships, like ducks going across a lawn. And half an hour later, I'm still at the wheel, and those two hit mines, and we didn't. So, luck again you see. They got them both back to England and patched them up. Later on, we heard that another British hospital ship, a bigger one, had been mined, with large loss of life. Apparently German planes were dropping mines over the shipping lanes during the ensuing nights.

Anyway, we got to Normandy about 12 noon the next day, D+1 [7 June]. Ours was a Yankee beach, Utah. Of course, Omaha Beach was the terrible one.

How close inshore were you?

Very close, very close. We were anchored. The beach was similar to our beach here [Wanganui] in this sense, it shoaled. You could walk for quite a while and strike a shoal. Most of the time [the wounded] were brought out on these huge barges, big flat-topped things, and we'd run down the gangway. Very often I'd just have a pair of shorts on, nothing else, no shoes, nothing. I could have carried as many as a hundred or more up the gangway. I was told that one of them, a big American Negro, was 15 stone. We'd carry these fellows down to the ward, and they'd get rolled into their bunk or whatever, and we couldn't get out of that place quick enough, out of the hospital ward.

Now and again one of our wounded died, and his remains were placed on the boat deck, where there is very little space anyway. One night at sea, prior to me going on watch at midnight, I hung my washing out to dry, to be uplifted at 4 a.m. And immediately beneath my clothesline was one of these bodies.

On the night of D+1, I was on the after deck in the evening, and there was a group of walking wounded, about four or five of them. I suppose they were all happy they were going back, fighting finished. Most of the wounded we carried back were airborne chaps, like paratroopers or glider men. They had probably landed in the wee small hours of the morning and been fighting all day. This chap took his tin hat off, and there were two holes in the back of it. You had to see it to believe it. Two holes, in and out, bullet holes. And all it did was tickle [the back of his head]. And night-time came, and he coiled up in a foxhole and pulled his greatcoat over top of him, and a cow fell on him and broke his collarbone! That was his story. But I imagine that nearly all the wounded men would have no knowledge of how they came back. They probably wouldn't know they came on a hospital ship.


Community contributions

1 comment has been posted about D-Day memories, Dewi Browne

What do you know?

frederick smith

Posted: 22 Jan 2010

My Dad served on the Lady Connaught and I would love to hear from anyone who knew him