Wigan's D-day veterans invited to visit Normandy...in style!

Eric Radcliffe from Leigh, Ted Houghton from Winstanley, the Mayor  Coun Sue Greensmith and Harry Cullen from Wigan
Eric Radcliffe from Leigh, Ted Houghton from Winstanley, the Mayor Coun Sue Greensmith and Harry Cullen from Wigan

Three Normandy veterans from Wigan will travel to the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings next month on a cruise ship chartered by the Royal British Legion.

The trio were invited to meet the Mayor of Wigan, Coun Sue Greensmith, ahead of their voyage.

Ted Houghton, 93, from Winstanley, was aboard the escort carrier HMS Tracker patrolling the Channel on June 5, the day before D-Day, keeping it clear from the threat of U-boats as part of the antisubmarine screen of the Western Approaches. He is one of only two surviving members of the Russian Convoy Association based in St Helens.

He said: “I wasn’t even 18 years old, but on June 10, 1944 we were chasing a U-boat and I was on the bridge when I heard a bang, our ship was holed in a collision with a River-class frigate of the Royal Canadian Navy, the HMCS Teme, causing heavy damage.

“We managed to pull some men out of the water, but we lost four Canadian servicemen. We had to be towed back to Liverpool.”

‘Little’ Harry Cullen from Wigan served with the Royal Army Service Corps attached to the Canadian Army. He is the ex-President of the Wigan D-Day and Normandy Veterans’ Association.

He joked: “I had a good landing on Juno Beach, which was fortunate, because I’m only four-foot-11, and not a great swimmer!

“It was a terrible scene when we landed, and I knew immediately we weren’t at Blackpool or Southport! The casualties were horrendous.”

Eric Radcliffe, 93, from Leigh served with the 6th Guards Tank Brigade in the 4th battalion.

He joined the Grenadier Guards days after his 18th birthday in 1943 and was sent to Normandy with his comrades in July 1944. Eric, a tank gunner operator, took part in battles at Caen, Cagny Arras and Caumont, travelling from Normandy through France, to Belgium and Nijmegen in Holland.

On that final trip he fell severely ill with jaundice, a life-threatening disease at that time, and was sent home in December 1944.

Eric said: “I was actually very lucky- I think someone must have been smiling at me from up there.

“The weather was hot, and the terrain was high banks and hedgerows which made it difficult for the tanks and infantry. The Germans could be just over the next hedge hiding with their guns.

“In Holland we would dig a large grave under the tank about a foot deep about the length of the tank and when the Germans were throwing a bit of flack over we would run the tank over the top of the hole and we would sleep underneath to keep safe from the shells.”

Coun Greensmith said: “They were all so modest, it was a real pleasure to sit and listen to their wartime memories and stories.

“Every one of them deserves recognition for their service to our country, and I hope the Royal British Legion voyage next month is a wonderful experience for them all.”

l Don’t miss our series of D-Day articles starting in next week’s Wigan Observer