A stoker’s tale, an extraordinary, ordinary life: from D-day to grocery sales


One of the many who did not make the 70th commemoration of the D-Day landings was my uncle Bill. When I was growing up he worked as a rep for a wholesale grocers. He had had other jobs – as a surface worker at Cronton colliery, working on the roads relaying kerb stones, making metal boxes electrical connectors for the mining industry, running round in a van getting customers for a cooked meat manufacturer and later selling cakes. But before all that, on June 8th 1944, aged 19, he was a stoker on a landing craft heading for Gold beach in Normandy.

As he wrote a few years before he died earlier this year, soon after his 88th birthday, “When your mum and dad got married I could not get leave because [it was the] 6th June. Was to be a secret and special day. Our job on D-day was to take a converted Thames barge to Normandy gold beach [on June 8th]. We loaded a specially adapted vehicle with engineering equipment on to the beach. This would be used repairing damaged craft, we achieved our objective and then ferried Canadian troops from ship to shore. We eventually sat on a mine, this disabled us. We left the craft, slept on the beach until we got home to Southampton on an l.s.t [landing ship, tank] loaded with German prisoners. We then [were] put [on] a train to take us back to our home depot.”

After his survivors leave, he wrote, “I went back and drafted to Cape Town South Africa, there I joined a destroyer HMS Rapid. We then proceeded to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, I celebrated 21st birthday on the upper deck in Trincomelee harbour, we set from there to invade Japan, fortunately surrender was declared so we returned to Trinco. When my time was up we returned bringing back to Scotland H. M. Sasonia, this was a depot repair ship mothballed” [on the Clyde]

None of this I knew as a child or young man. He never spoke of it. And even towards the end of his life never in very much detail. But at least he did speak a little about it, went on parades, was a proud member of the Landing Craft Association, in his latter couple of decades. To me growing up he went round selling groceries to shops. How little I, or even his sons, knew. How little he said. And now he is gone, it is too late to ask more.

But he remembered everything and everyone so clearly, as so many of those interviewed seem to. When he was working on the roads soon after the war he wrote how “One day a lorry arrived to remove dirt, it was a contract firm working for Whiston council. And the driver was George Langley. He was the driver of the engineering ferry we took from Poole Harbour to Normandy for D day landing in 1944. He lived in St Helens. What a coincidence. I tried to make contact recently but unfortunately he had deceased.”

Bill Dando served in the navy from 22nd April 1943 to 12 December 1946. He died in February 2014.


About geofftansey

I curate the Food Systems Academy, a free, on-line, open education resource to transform our food systems. I am also a member of the Food Ethics Council and chaired the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty, which reported in 2015.
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