In the first of a three-part series to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we look back at the men and women of the north-east who took part in the momentous military invasion
“We had no idea what we were going into – there wasn’t really time to be scared”.
Those are the words of Private Jim Glennie who stormed the beaches of Normandy with comrades from the Gordon Highlanders aged just 18.
On this day 75 years ago, tens of thousands of men were preparing to put their lives on the line to free Europe from the Nazis.
The stories told are a share of glorious triumph and desperate despair as thousands were lost in what became the most famous offensive of any war in human history.
Thousands would lose their lives in just hours on June 6 1944, many of them young men just like Pte Glennie.
Jim, 93, originally from Turriff but now living in Danestone, said he and his fellow soldiers weren’t clued in to plans of the D-Day landings until they boarded a boat bound for France.
The crossing was fraught with nerves for the surrounding soldiers, some of whom had been brought back from the Far Eastern front by Supreme Commander Charles Montgomery to be part of the assault, which was the first step in Operation Overlord –an Allied bid to put as many troops on French beaches to repel the German forces and push them back through Europe.
The 5/7th Battalion of the Highlanders trained in Orkney in preparation for the landings, along with a battle drill a bit closer to home for Jim.
He said: “We were stationed at Sunnybank School, which was great because it was one of the few buildings in the city which had central heating.
“We were also taken on a battle drill to the beaches at Blackdog.
“There we would be made to crawl underneath barbed wire while they fired a machine gun over our heads.
“Explosive charges were going off all around us as well.
“It was a frightening experience.
“One of our number actually died as well, he was hit by something – I’m not sure what – but there was bits of human flesh on our packs and our uniforms from him.”
During the crossing of the Channel, Jim remembered his inability to sleep, but not through nerves or trepidation.
He said: “It was the fact there were only a few hammocks there and the rest of us had to just bed down on the floor of the ship.
“It was really uncomfortable so we weren’t able to get any sleep on the way over.”
Jim believes his age may have played a factor in his outlook on the landings, saying the “fearlessness” he felt at just 18 helped him.
A pair of his comrades had another fear in their minds as they crossed the sea to meet the enemy, other than the threat of German rifles or tanks.
Jim said: “Two of my pals couldn’t swim and when we were told what was going to happen they were a bit scared.
“One of them turned to me and said ‘you can swim, can you help us?’”.
So the trio hatched a plan of action if the water was too deep to wade through.
Jim said: “I was going to help get one of them off the landing craft, then go back for the other one and get them off.
“But when we got to the beach and the doors opened we stepped out into the water and it just about came up to our knees.
“We were among the lucky ones who were actually quite close to the beach, so the water wasn’t as deep as we expected.”