Veteran, 99, recalls ‘unbelievable’ sight of ships sailing to Normandy on D-Day

A Royal Navy veteran has recalled the “unbelievable” sight of the ships sailing to Normandy on D-Day – and how he felt “grateful” to be heading back to England afterwards.

John Dennett, from Wallasey, remembers thinking “nothing can happen to us, there’s too many of us” as he saw the boats on June 6 1944.

Speaking ahead of the 80th anniversary of the invasion, the 99-year-old said: “We couldn’t sail on the 5th, which everybody knows now, but we were already in our anchorage outside in the Channel.

“We stayed overnight and then we set off, it must’ve been on the 6th around about midnight.

“There was that many ships, you thought, well what’s going to happen? You had to see it to believe it.

“I saw a picture of it again yesterday and it’s unbelievable.

“We thought nothing can happen to us, there’s too many of us.

D-Day 80th anniversary
John Dennett said some of his other ‘escapades’ were worse than D-Day, ‘possibly because I was never really shot at on that day’ (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

“And sure enough, to me, D-Day wasn’t as bad as some of my other escapades.

“But it was only possibly because I was never really shot at on that day.”

He added: “Being a sailor, I’m glad I wasn’t a soldier, put it that way.

“I don’t know if I could’ve charged off our landing craft with a gun or not.”

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Asked if he remembered how he felt on D-Day, Mr Dennett replied: “Not really, other than it was just another day.

“At night-time when we came off, heading back, I know we were very grateful to think well, we’re going back to England.”

After that, Mr Dennett said the crew sailed back and forth about every other day in the weeks that followed.

He said: “We took prisoners home on the boat, we took wounded.

Prince Harry visit to Portsmouth
John Dennett (left) and Frank Diffell (right) met Prince Harry, now the Duke of Sussex, in 2016 in the Map Room at Southwick House, near Portsmouth, the headquarters where the Allied commanders planned the Normandy invasion (Chris Jackson/PA)

“In the LST (landing ship tank), when it’s empty in the tank deck, they loaded it with stretchers and all that and we had an operating theatre temporarily.

“And if anybody on the stretchers needed operating on, they had a go at him.”

Mr Dennett added: “When I think about it, I think how lucky to go through it and be a part of it.”

Mr Dennett, who is originally from Wiltshire, joined the Navy at the age of 17 and trained to become a gunner.

D-Day 80th anniversary
John Dennett said he talks about his experiences, although it upsets him, so others can understand ‘what war is all about’ (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

“I had a good visit of the world in various sections,” he said.

“I consider myself very lucky. I’m one of the lucky ones to see it and come home.

“Because we lost that many people that, it’s frightening when you stop and think sometimes, even in Normandy, the amount we lost. I didn’t realise we lost so many on the first couple of days.

“And it’s only when you read statistics you think, bloody hell. But, I’m still here to tell the tale. Thank goodness.”

D-Day 75th anniversary
John Dennett met skipper Ian Gilbert when he looked around the boat Lady Lou which was used in the Dunkirk evacuation, during an event at Portsmouth Historical Dockyard in 2019 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Reflecting on his time during the war, Mr Dennett said he was “very proud”, before becoming emotional.

Speaking through tears, he added: “It’s when you think about those who didn’t come back.

“I visit schools in England, in Holland, and talk to the kids and try to instil in them what war is all about, peace and the significance of the poppy, because I’m a greater believer in that.

“Even though it upsets me, I will always do it.”

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Only in the years after the war did he release that at the time they were fighting for freedom, Mr Dennett said.

He added: “It’s only in later years when I’ve sat down and realised, all the years of freedom I’ve enjoyed – and I’ve enjoyed a lot, and you wouldn’t have been here if we hadn’t fought during that period.”

Mr Dennett plans to travel to Normandy with the Spirit of Normandy Trust for the 80th anniversary.

Asked why it is important for him to travel back to Normandy, Mr Dennett said: “It’s nice to think that everybody who gave their life is remembered properly.”

D-Day 80th anniversary
John Dennett (front right) with other veterans and Viscount Henry Montgomery and General Lord Dannatt at a D-Day 80 gathering organised by the Spirit of Normandy Trust, in conjunction with the British Normandy Memorial, in London (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Mr Dennett founded Ashville FC in 1949 which now has its own grounds and has 20 youth teams.

He said: “I’m very proud of the old football club, and we’re well respected, that’s the main thing.”