The day that changed the Second World War caught on camera by Hemingford Abbots man
09:10 17 June 2014
Unlike the hundreds of veterans who returned to Normandy on Friday (June 6) to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, including one who escaped his care home to make the trip, Sub Lieutenant Brian Carter, who is 89, has never been back to the French beaches.
Despite not wanting to return to Normandy, to the beaches where thousands of Allied soldiers were killed, his memory of the events lives on through his pictures and books D-Day Landings and Normandy Landings, A 19-year-old’s diary with unique photos.
During the first part of the war, Mr Carter, born in Southampton in 1924 to a First World War hero Captain Stanley Carter, a Royal Engineer who was awarded the Military Cross, was a despatch rider for the Home Guard in Croydon, where his father was the commanding officer.
He joined the Royal Navy in 1942 when he was 18.
“As every youngster at the time, we just longed for the day when we became 18-and-a-half and were able to join the forces,” he said.
“We were sent to a camp where I arrived with about 50 others for training. It was bloody rough there and I was amazed how half of them were marched away with body lice. I never thought in those days people would have vermin on them and we had to live with them.
“Out of the 50, myself and a few others were taken away as prospective officers and we got to know everything we needed to. I had to learn so much including the language of the fleet, which was a bit rough in places.”
After his initial training, Mr Carter was sent to Scotland to practise landings and was assigned to an American landing craft.
“At Grangemouth they had all these American landing craft and they had to find crews from them so they picked people from the Navy. We were all jolly young.
“They all were sent to Dartmouth. At the time we knew nothing about D-Day. The captain and I would take four hours piloting and four hours off.
“As we were sailing out of the river we were signalled that we were heading into danger. We were sailing into a minefield but luckily we had flat-bottomed boats so we avoided them.”
When they arrived in Dartmouth, on the south coast, the harbour was crammed with boats, primed for the invasion.
“As it was secret we weren’t allowed to send half our crew off for a rest as we would do normally,” Mr Carter told The Hunts Post. “The next day I was allowed to go to shore to pick up supplies. I spoke to an officer and he asked how many of us were there, and I said 12. He asked how many army troops we were carrying, so I said we were carrying eight tanks with four people in each.
“He was doing some calculations and I asked him why. He told me that there were three sheets of toilet paper for the Navy and two sheets for the Army. Then I said we were carrying Americans. His face dropped. All the preparation for the biggest invasion and it boiled down to talking about how many toilet rolls we should be given.”
On June 4, 1944, Mr Carter’s boat was loaded with tanks in preparation for the night’s sailing over to France.
He said: “We went to a ramp and the tanks reversed on so when we got to the other side, they would be able to drive off. I went into the [boat’s] ward room and the carpet was floating. I went to the American Colonel in charge of the loading and he took two of the tanks off so we could stay afloat.
“We were all on tenterhooks. It was decided the fourth would be the day, although the weather was not at all clever. We sailed first as we had the furthest to go.
“The weather was appalling. I couldn’t see how we would stay afloat. The engines kept breaking down. In the end we were down to one engine.
“General Eisenhower called off D-Day and had to send an aeroplane to signal to us that it was cancelled. We went to the nearest harbour, which was Torquay. The Americans were 100 per cent efficient and fixed the boat. We were desperately tired and tried to sleep while they did the work.”
After the false start, Mr Carter and thousands of other boats of various sizes made their way across the Channel on June 5 ready for the morning after, with the then 19-year-old heading for Pointe du Hoc, on the Omaha beachhead.
“As I wasn’t the best at finding my way. I followed boats that were going near where I needed to end up. We were ordered to not stop for anything, but we came across a sunken ship and I was not going to let these people just drown so I picked them up and took them to the nearest bigger ship.
“When we got three miles away, I turned right to my landing. There was smoke and noise, shells and everything else. I went up to the bridge to speak to the captain and he just collapsed on the chart table – there’s only so much some people can take.
“It was up to me to drive the boat onto the landing.”
The sea was a filled with a mass of floating bodies killed in the first wave of landings, so it was impossible for Mr Carter to land without running over them.
“We landed fast and got the door open and the tank commander in the leading tank stood out of his hatch and was promptly shot in the head. He was slumped over the driver below and was holding everything up. We had to drag him out and as there was nowhere to put him, we placed him over the side. The tanks then were able to get off.
“As we had landed so fast, we couldn’t get out so we went to the beach and took some cover. When the tide was right we got back in our boat and went back to a merchant ship to reload.”
While he was on the beach, a bullet ricocheted off the side of a tank and hit him in the forehead, knocking him to the ground. Luckily he was just left with a small dent in his skull.
Mr Carter made 13 landings on both the Omaha and Utah beach heads, and was under bombing attack night and day.
He stayed on the American landings until the day after the great storm on June 19, during which his boat was crippled when he took one of the most famous pictures of the landings – one of allied ships bunched up and beached – despite not being allowed his camera.
“Although we weren’t expressly told not to take a camera, we were not allowed to,” Mr Carter said. “It was a very good camera and took great shots. I just wanted to take pictures.”
After Normandy, Mr Carter was told to pilot a boat to the Far East where he helped Singapore citizens back to their country after the Japanese left.
He left the Navy after the war and returned to watch making, but after two years he decided to develop a boat yard at Buckden, where he established Buckden Marina.
Mr Carter, who became a Huntingdon and Peterborough county councillor, sold the marina in the 70s and became a marine surveyor.
He also turned the Swavesey Windmill into an attraction before moving to Meadow Lane, Hemingford Abbots, in 1997.
The camera was not so fortunate – it was stolen while his brother was borrowing it.