Private Vic Mackenzie, 89, was a driver with Royal Army Service Corps, attached to 7th Armoured Division. Mr Mackenzie came ashore at |Arromanches, on Gold Beach, on D-Day plus two on 8 June, 1944.
He began the war as a teenaged private in a Home Guard (“Dad’s Army”) unit “which had NCO’s just like Corporal Jones”. He ended the war “a much older man”, after his unit was one of the first to stumble on the Belsen concentration camp in the spring of 1945.
“Excitement is what I remember when we stepped ashore. Excitement, not fear. We had been trained. Now we were doing out job.. It didn’t take long to discover that training was not like the real thing. I remember seeing a group of our soldiers lying in a ditch, looking out for the enemy. We came up and we found that they were dead British paratroopers who had been killed a couple of days before.”
“I was the driver of a truck bringing shells for tanks and other ammunition right into the front line…The division moved forward, a huge column, to capture a town called Villers-Bocage (on 13 June). We thought we were doing fine until we ran into German tanks, just a handful of them. They took out the first tank in our column and the last vehicle and they pounded and pounded us. We lost 200 vehicles in two days.”
“Later, crossing the river Orne, a shell hit the truck in front of mine. The driver, Corporal Archie, “Johnny” Ellis, was my best friend. He was our joker, the man who could always make us laugh. He was blown to bits. A piece of shrapnel came through the front window of my truck and grazed my head. I still have it.”
“When I get together with other veterans, it all seems unreal to us now, like a dream. Did we really do those things? Was it really us? There were 75 members of my branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association (the Hackney branch) when I joined. Now we get six or seven along to a meeting.”
“It’s important that people should remember but I’m not sure that young people these days understand or want to know. It’s all a long time ago for them.”
“What I would like them to know is this: we were fighting for our lives, for everything we had. I never heard anyone express any doubts about why we there. The wars we fight nowadays - |Libya, Afghanistan – seem to be wars in which we interfere in other countries. Maybe it is justified; maybe it is not.”
“But then we knew we that we were fighting against something monstrous and for everything that was dear to us. After I saw those heaps of bodies at Belsen I never wanted to go back to Germany again.”