For years Francis Crowe did not talk about his experiences of the Second World War – saying they were “too horrible”.
But now, at the age of 98 and having been awarded with the Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur (Legion of Honour) medal from the French Government to mark him being appointed to the rank of Chevalier (knight) in the order, Mr Crowe has shared some of his memories of his time with the Royal Army Service Corps Transport Division in the early to mid-1940s.
Mr Crowe, who was born in Warwick and is now a resident of Fourways Residential Home in Lillington, was among the earliest waves of troops to land at Sword Beach in Normandy on D-Day on June 6 1944.
But he had nearly been killed at Dunkirk in 1940 when the boat on which he was being evacuated from the beach was hit by a bomb and he had to be rescued from drowning by sailors on another vessel.
On D-Day, Mr Crowe drove an amphibious truck known as a ‘Duck’ to transport troops and supplies to and from the beach and he describes his situation as “being like a sitting duck”.
Mr Crowe, who eventually made the rank of Acting Staff Sergeant, said: “There was a lot of action going on.
“The soldiers we had on board had a dry landing because we were able to drive straight on to the beach while others had to drop down into the water, so they were the lucky few.
“Then it was backwards and forwards for me all day and all night for the next few days to transport supplies.”
Mr Crowe was part of the campaign to liberate Europe “right through to the end”, providing transport support for different regiments in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany and even bringing supplies to German civilians after VE Day.
He said: “The French people treated us very well because, of course, they were delighted about being liberated. But there was terrible damage done in Europe.
“To receive the medal and letter makes me very proud and pleased to have lived long enough to do so.”
He was demobbed in February 1946 and returned to Warwick and to his job at Warwick Laundry which he had left at the age of 24 when he was conscripted.
Had he stayed in his previous job at Coventry Motors he would not have been called up due to the need for skilled factory workers to help Britain’s war effort.
He said some of his happiest days were in the years after the war when he was able to wander the hills of the Midlands.
He had married Nellie, his now late wife, in 1941, and he has three children, six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandson.
As one of the first people in Warwickshire to pass their driving test before the war, Mr Crowe became a driver for the county ambulance service for 30 years between 1952 to 1982.
He said: “I drove to help people during and after the war.
“My grandson once told me that what we helped to do was to give him a chance to have a better life and to get a shilling in his pocket.”