Ted recalls the painful loss of life

He has never forgotten the huge loss of life in the wake of D-Day.

Thursday, 6th June 2019, 11:28 am
Updated Thursday, 6th June 2019, 12:28 pm
Ted Davidson drove a Churchill tank during D-Day.

Padiham man Ted Davidson reached the shore near Sword Beach with the 6th Guards Tank Brigade around day 18 of Operation Overload.

“The first thing we saw when we eventually landed was devastation,” he said.

“The beaches had been cleared of casualties but there was still aircraft and naval action going on.”

Ted Davidson drove a Churchill tank during D-Day.

Ted’s first target was to help free the port city of Caen. But the men were ambushed and lost 11 tanks.

“We reached Caen in a matter of days, only to discover it had been bombed. It was flat - just a pile of rubble. Even tanks couldn’t drive over it,” he said.

“It was done by the Americans mainly. I thought that was terrible as there were an awful lot of civilians killed. It’s a wonder they don’t hate us; perhaps some do.”

On July 7th, 450 heavy bombers blitzed the outskirts of Caen during Operation Charnwood, repeating the assault on July 18th for Operation Goodwood.

Ted (third from the top left) with comrades.

Caen suffered heavy casualties due to Allied bombing. And around 20,000 French civilians were estimated to have been killed during the Battle of Normandy.

At 17-years-old, Ted was too young to predict the chaos he would discover when he signed up for D-Day.

Now 93, he has the hindsight to see he had volunteered unwittingly.

“When I joined the army, no-one explained what I was going in for,” he said.

Winston Churchill visiting Normandy in the aftermath of D-Day.

“Young lads went in sort of innocent. Half of them didn’t know what the fighting was about: they weren’t interested in the politics and they were completely ignorant to the circumstances that led up to the mission.”

At the time, he was training as a foot soldier with the Black Watch in Edinburgh.

“The lads I worked with were posted overseas but I was too young so I was left behind and I was a bit bored,” he said.

“There was a request for volunteers, 5ft 10 and over. It didn’t say what is was for. I don’t whether you’ve heard the expression, ‘Never volunteer for anything,’ but I was that fed up I did.”

He was sent to the Royal Tank Regiment in Yorkshire for six months to learn how to drive and fix infantry Churchill tanks. He then returned to Bovington Camp in Dorset to join the 6th Guards Tank Brigade, finally old enough to serve overseas, just in time for D-Day.

The regiment sailed to Normandy from Gosport across the English Channel.

“We had to wait off shore for our turn and the weather was atrocious so we all got seasick,” Ted said.

“The tanks were chained onto the decks but the weather was that rough some of them broke loose and started sliding about.”

And driver Ted knows just how deadly those 42 tonne vehicles could be.

He added: “Mine was a fighting machine.

“Germany had a big advantage as their tanks had a powerful gun but they were also heavier than ours. We could drive across fields and rough terrains while the Nazis had to stay on roads. They also used to hide in barns, factories and farm buildings which had been bombed so they could catch you unaware.

“A German tiger tank was powerful and technical, with an 88mm gun which could go straight through a Churchill. If your vehicle was hit it would explode because of the fuel and ammunition, so you were lucky if you got out. A lot of life was lost. It was terrible.

“Five men - a mechanic, a co-driver, a radio operator, a commander and a gunner - lived in each vehicle.

“Being in the Scots Guards, we were all at least 5ft 10 inches tall so there wasn’t much room. You’re more or less locked in and it’s dark inside so it was claustrophobic. But you got used to it. One time we were in there for 24 hours as we were too vulnerable to go out.

“Although I was only 17, I think I took it pretty well. It’s a bit of a shock.

“In tanks there were only five of you and when you’re in action you’re looking after each other, so you become very close. There’s the old saying, ‘band of brothers’ and that’s what we were.

“But my biggest memory is the loss of life. Young men died for all different reasons: shootings, bombings, accidents.”

The number of Allied people killed on D-Day is estimated to be 4,413, of which 1,449 were British. Between 4,000 and 9,000 Germans were killed, wounded or taken as prisoners of war.

And more than 100,000 Allied and German troops lost their lives during the whole of the Battle of Normandy.

“Everybody was vulnerable but the lads just got on with it. It had to be done. You focused on the moment in time and every day was a bonus,” said Ted.

After being demobbed in 1950, the veteran’s life changed dramatically.

He undertook two years of Royal duties at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, before joining the police force in the Midlands and marrying his late wife Dorothy.

He settled in Padiham 34 years ago and worked for 10 years at Burnley Football Club where he was in charge of the training ground at Gawthorpe.

These days he enjoys attending the charity concerts of his granddaughter, operatic singing sensation Grace O’Malley.

After the D-Day Landings, Ted went on to live a vivid and interesting life - but the atrocities of war still linger in his mind.

“I’m very proud to have done it but I don’t think I’ll ever brag about it. I just hope it doesn’t happen again. There’s no point.

“You know, it’s nice we still have Remembrance. It’s not a lot to ask that once a year we remember the millions who were killed.

“It’s hard to get your head round that sometimes. You’re talking about millions of deaths.

“And it’s still going on - but who are we to stop it?”