ONE of Hampshire’s leading politicians has spoken of his “life-changing” experience watching D-Day preparations.
County council education boss Peter Edgar grew up in Gosport and witnessed soldiers, tanks and guns pass through the town in June 1944 ready to begin the assault on Normandy.
Cllr Edgar, who lived through German bombings during the Blitz, said: “These men had left their families and were going off somewhere, we knew not exactly where, to sort out the terrible Germans who had dropped bombs on us, killed our neighbours and friends and had wrecked our railway station and cinema.
“All over Gosport in familiar local areas, such as Forton, Elson, Brockhurst and Alverstoke, there were large piles of rubble where homes had been.
He added: “As D-Day approached and the armour and troops filled our streets, there was great relief that at last we were going to hit back at the Germans and this dreadful, evil war could be coming to an end. As the preparations gained momentum, security was obviously very tight but us kids went everywhere.”
But it was on D-Day itself that he realised the true terrors of war when landing craft returned to Gosport carrying seriously wounded soldiers.
Cllr Edgar said: “Incoming landing craft were being met by a fleet of ambulances to take the wounded off to hospitals in the area. The most seriously wounded would go to Haslar but all hospitals in the area were extremely busy. There was also the site of the bodies of those servicemen who had been killed being unloaded. An extremely harrowing and unforgettable experience for us children.”
Those craft were followed a day later by 1,039 German prisoners of war who were marched through Gosport on their way to prison camps.
He said: “We just could not believe our eyes. As the landing craft hit the ramps the large bow doors opened and one British soldier with his gun casually over his shoulder, descended. He was followed by hundreds of Germans. Another British soldier would come ashore followed by more Germans.
A memorial that Cllr Edgar places at Stokes Bay every June
“The Germans were in the main pathetic, bedraggled figures. I, along with most of those who witnessed this scene, could not believe that these were the frightening monsters who had done such terrible things to our town and its people.
“It now came home to us that they were human beings just like us. The conflict in all of our minds was summed up by the actions of householders nearby who were viewing the scene. Some were offering cups of coffee to these defeated soldiers whilst others were taking the coffee away.”
He added: “That scene certainly was a life changing moment for me. Its experience taught me of the futility of war and I definitely never again used the phrase, ‘The only good German is a dead German.’”