Derbyshire D-Day heroes tell of historic military operation on 75th anniversary

Jack Parrott.
Jack Parrott.

Today marks 75 years since D-Day - one of the most incredible military operations ever attempted.

On June 6, 1944, during the Second World War, the Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy in northern France to overthrow Nazi Germany.

Bill Woolley.

Bill Woolley.

It was the biggest seaborne invasion in history and involved 156,000 troops mainly from the UK, Canada and the US.

We tracked down three Derbyshire D-Day heroes to relive their experiences...

Jack Parrott, 97, of Grassmoor, served with the Sherwood Foresters before joining the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), where he was responsible for the distribution of supplies to units in the field.

Here's a timeline of what happened on D-Day

Herbert Thorpe.

Herbert Thorpe.

While he was with the Army, he went across to Normandy – six days after D-Day – aged 23.

As not many people could drive back in those days, Mr Parrott was a valuable asset to the Army because he could. At a younger age, while living in Brimington, a neighbour had two

American cars and he would watch what his neighbour did while he sat in the passenger seat.

“I was always a guy with an inquisitive mind and that is when I realised I might be able to drive,” he said.

Despite only ever watching his neighbour drive, Mr Parrott picked up the skill quickly and used it to his advantage to join the RASC.

While he was with the RASC he practised his driving and went on to pass a test.

Mr Parrott told the Derbyshire Times: “The only thing I did wrong was holding the steering wheel too close.”

He went out to Normandy with the RASC in 1944 and his job was to distribute messages using his vehicle such as the battle plan and court-martials.

Mr Parrott, who spent three years in Normandy, said: “I had a few narrow escapes.”

At 97-years-old Mr Parrott, who has two sons, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild, is not able to get out and about as much as he would like but he will be watching the anniversary coverage on the TV.

He has four war medals, including the prestigious Legion d’honneur - the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits.
“I treasure my medals,” he added.

Fellow hero, Bill Woolley, 100, of Codnor, has seven medals and three certificates related to D-Day.

The awards were presented to him for bravery and outstanding service, including the Légion d’Honneur.

Mr Woolley takes great pride in his medals and likes to wear them on the anniversary of D-Day and on special occasions.

He has one son and two grandchildren, and said he will be watching the anniversary ceremonies on TV.

Recalling what happened, Mr Woolley said: “The preparations were conducted in secret, but I had been asked to fetch a water-proofing kit so I knew we were going somewhere wet.

“I would often represent my regiment on official occasions, but this time I was asked to go in a covered truck to a secret location with no idea what it was for.

“We were driven out to a country lane, and lined up on either side of the road. All of a sudden a car pulled up and King George got out. He performed an inspection and then he was gone again, quick as a flash. I felt honoured to have been there.

“We had no idea what we were going into, and the men were getting so upset that two committed suicide. When we landed on Sword beach on June 6, it was like hell let loose. Everything moved so fast. I have never read a description of that day which comes anywhere close to the reality. It couldn’t.”

He added: “I’ve never gone back to Normandy. I wouldn’t, I’ve seen enough, but I only have one thought — we did a good job.”

And Long Eaton war veteran Herbert Thorpe, 95, was also involved in D-Day.

The great-grandfather served with the Royal Navy during World War Two - laying smoke trails to hide boats from the enemy’s sight.

Mr Thorpe joined the navy at the age of 18. He was part of a crew of 21 on board Motor Torpedo Boat V 696 which laid a smoke path for the armada in the course of the D-Day landings so the Germans could not see the vessels approaching French shores.

Mr Thorpe, known as Bert, served four years with the coastal forces and was part of Operation Overlord. He said: “There were five boats in total, we more or less took the armada across on D-Day. We protected the Minesweepers, which turned back half way and left us to it. I mainly served on torpedoes - we were called the pirates of the Navy.”

He added: “The skipper would start counting to 10 and all of a sudden the two battle wagons opened up. Our job was to protect the fleet. I could fire every gun, every torpedo,
everything.”

He was honoured with the Légion D’Honneur in February this year.