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D-Day 70: Shocking frontline slaughter remembered by Warminster veteran
Doug Lakey, 94, can still remember the terrible sea crossing to the Normandy beaches and dreadful scenes which followed.
Mr Lakey, of Warminster, was just 24 at the time and was a technical assistant to the battery commander, before later being promoted to Bombardier with the 112 Field Regiment Royal Artillery.
He said: “We were caught in a gale off the coast of France and unable to land for six days. The ship was crammed with troops and equipment was tossed like a cork.
“I was glad to get on land after being so seasick. We were dropped about 300 yards from the shore, all in waterproof vehicles. We were still under shellfire from the Germans.”
He was quickly hustled off Gold Beach and sent to a holding area in Bayeux.
“The weather was hot and the tracks were all dust,” he said.
“In fact, one seemed to live in a cloud of dust. We had numerous small skirmishes with the enemy but the big one was to be July 10.”
The infamous Battle for Hill 122, said by the Germans to be the pivotal encounter of the Normandy invasion, was to be Mr Lackey’s first real battle.
Their objective was to capture the village of Maltot.
Mr Lakey recalls: “I don’t think I was frightened, but full of trepidation. Our faces were blackened with paste, all of our equipment was double-checked and we were briefed the evening before.
“At 5am on the dot a tremendous barrage of artillery and mortars commenced and the attack began.”
The memory of that day is still vivid.
“The sight of so many being literally slaughtered, the tremendous effort made by our own artillery after constant demands from us to fire as fast as you can on targets literally yards from us, the great loss of life in the 4th Dorset Regt and the tank crews who lost their lives,” he said.
“Less than 150 of the 800 or so of the battalion survived. That was the hardest time, and the breakout through Reichswald Forest in Germany.
“They were terrible conditions. The mud was so deep we couldn’t use a Bren carrier and were given a new vehicle.
He also recalls The Battle of the Falaise Pocket, which took place from August 12 to 21, 1944.
“It was dreadful,” he said. “There was absolute slaughter; cows, horses, people.”
Mr Lakey’s role meant he was up with the frontline troops, observing and correcting fire.
It was his role throughout the war as he supported the 7th Hampshire Infantry Regiment through France, Belgium, Holland and through Germany until the war ended.
Mr Lakey, now a grandfather, travelled to Normandy on Wednesday and will attend a service in Bayeux Cathedral and visit several cemeteries on Friday.
He said: “We visit all the places where we were but I don’t recognise anything.”