D-Day veteran from Leeds recalls Normandy landings ahead of VE Day 75

A 95-year-old D-Day veteran from Leeds has spoken of his role in charge of a landing craft  in the Normandy landings as the nation prepares to mark the 75th anniversary of  of Victory in Europe Day.

Great grandfather Denis Gregson, who was born in Hunslet, was a 19-year-old coxswain in the Royal Marines who was in charge of a landing craft ferrying troops and equipment to Gold Beach on June 6 1944.

He was honoured with France’s highest medal of distinction, the Legion d’Honneur, in 2016 in recognition of his service on D-Day.

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Mr Gregson and his granddaughter Michelle, 42, should have been in London this week as Royal British Legion (RBL) guests at events to mark Victory in Europe Day on Friday May 8.

Denis GregsonDenis Gregson
Denis Gregson | jpimedia

But the events in London and across the country have been cancelled as the RBL calls on the nation to mark the anniversary from home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Gregson was 14 when he left Victoria School on York Road in Leeds before starting work as an apprentice cooper (barrel maker) at a company in Hunslet.

He joined the Royal Marines aged 18 in March 1943 and at the end of that year he was sent to Wales as part of the Combined Operations preparations for D-Day.

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He spent around four months training as a coxon off the south coast before being made a corporal.

Denis GregsonDenis Gregson
Denis Gregson

Mr Gregson was one of a crew of six manning a landing craft which was part of 605 flotilla making the journey from Portsmouth on D-Day.

His first job was to get three cooks from the 8th army and their lorry ashore near Gold Beach, after the beach had been taken earlier that day.

Mr Gregson said: "We didn't have time to be scared. We had been trained to do a job and all we did was do exactly what we were told to do."

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Mr Gregson said he continued transporting troops and equipment to the beach until his landing craft stopped working and became stranded near Gold Beach after a steel cable became wrapped around the propeller.

Denis Gregson and wife DoreenDenis Gregson and wife Doreen
Denis Gregson and wife Doreen | other

Mr Gregson said during a short walk from Gold Beach he witnessed bodies of men who had been killed in action on D-Day laid out in a field and covered with sheets.

He said: "The suffering that must have gone on with the men being injured and killed. Most of them would have been young men."

He spent a total of three months in France and helped create a temporary harbour - known as a Mulberry Harbour - to enable cargo to be offloaded quickly near Gold Beach.

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He was later posted to Kiel, a submarine base in Germany which was guarded until the war ended.

He then escorted a German destroyer to Rosyth and was back home in Leeds by Christmas 1945 and was demobbed in 1946.

Mr Gregson, who lives in Airdrie near Glasgow, met his future wife Doreen Pawson at the Star Cinema on York Road near Torre Road in Leeds and they married in 1949.

The couple moved to Scotland more than 50-years ago and Mr Gregson worked as a cooper, making wooden barrels for the whisky industry.

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Doreen Gregson died seven years ago aged in her late eighties.

Mr Gregson was among 300 surviving D-Day veterans who made a pilgrimage to Normandy beaches for the 75th anniversary year of the D-Day landings last June.

Poppyscotland, Legion Scotland and the Royal British Legion chartered the cruise ship MV Boudicca to take them to Bayeux 75 years to the day after the landings.

After setting sail from Dover, the veterans took centre stage at national commemorative events in Portsmouth before retracing their famous journey across the Channel.

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