D-Day 70: Vivid recollections of Pewsey veteran who fought behind enemy lines

Major Alan Graham as he is today

Major Alan Graham as he was when he parachuted into Normandy

First published in News

Major Alan Graham and his unit parachuted into Normandy under cover of darkness for Operation Overlord as part of the D-Day landings.

Now, 70 years later, the 89-year-old, who lives near Pewsey with his wife, Mary, is returning to Normandy to mark the anniversary of the Allied invasion.

Maj Graham was just 19 when his unit, 3 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, 6th Airborne Division, landed in a field in Ranville, Normandy, on the eve of D-Day.

They were tasked with blowing up five bridges along the River Dives to prevent a German armoured assault of the eastern flank of the invasion area.

“It was a semi-moonlit night and when I landed and started to take off my harness I stumbled into a ditch and fell over a dead German soldier, so my experience of war was within seconds of landing,” he said.

“I can remember vividly his position, his sallow face and the wound in his chest.”

Major Graham began training for adult service when he was 17 and was posted to a unit in Dorset before volunteering for airborne duties in 1943.

After parachute training, he was posted to Bulford Military Camp and in 1944 he began specialising in bridge demolition.

In the last week of May his unit was moved to an airfield at Blakehill Farm, near Cricklade, and three days before D-Day they were addressed by the brigade commander, told their objective and ordered not to discuss what they had been told.

“The briefing we had was intense in detail and the RAF had obtained photographs of the bridges we were going to blow up so we knew exactly what we had to do,” said Maj Graham.

“On June 4 we loaded up our demolition chargers on our RAF Dakotas but had to unload due to bad weather delay. Finally, early the next evening we reloaded our equipment, fitted our parachutes and took off.

“The RAF pilots, due to darkness, dropped my unit some five miles north of its planned dropping zone. After much confusion, in enemy fire, we organised ourselves into separate parties and fought our way to the bridge sites.

“My job as a corporal was to go to the bridge at Troarn, which is the major bridge in that part of the area. If that could be denied to the Germans then the landing was safe.”

After the bridge at Troarn was successfully demolished, Major Graham’s unit engaged in conventional Royal Engineers tasks.

In August, while living and fighting from a hall in the Normandy front line, the major Allied breakout through France occurred and Maj Graham’s unit set off in pursuit of dealing with mines and delaying other obstacles until they reached the Seine.

In September his unit was withdrawn back to England. Of the 280 strong unit, there are just two other survivors.

Maj Graham said:“I’m looking forward to meeting a special old friend, Bill Dickson. I was the NCO and he was the gunner and on D-Day we landed together and worked together.

“He emigrated to Australia many years ago but still returns to Normandy every ten years. I very much value his friendship.”

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