FORMER Cowley car worker Joe Beardsley paid his respects at the grave of a friend at the D-Day 70th anniversary commemorations.
A member of Kidlington Royal British Legion, the former Royal Marine went to Normandy to lay a poppy at the grave of Corporal Gerald Dean, from Staffordshire, who is buried at Bayeux War Cemetery.
While Mr Beardsley, 89, survived D-Day, Cpl Dean, a fellow Marine who he became firm friends with at a transit camp, died aged 18.
Mr Beardsley, of 3 Commando, was also just 18 when he landed on Sword Beach with Combined Ops 538 Flotilla.
Acting as stern sheetsman, he kept Landing Craft 638 in a straight line as it approached the shore, ferrying troops from 1st Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment to Sword Beach.
In the first few days after landing on Sword Beach on D-Day, Mr Beardsley helped with five landings of American troops at Omaha Beach, where servicemen suffered about 2,400 casualties.
After those landings, Mr Beardsley was then called back to his ship, the Empire Broadsword. It was on board that he learned his friend had died on D-Day.
Cpl Dean was on a different landing craft to Mr Beardsley and had landed on Sword Beach after him. The pair had first met six months previously at HMS Westcliff, a naval transit camp in Southend, Essex.
Mr Beardsley, who is married to Malva, 88, added: “When we landed on Sword Beach, shells were coming over our heads from our own fleet but we weren’t under fire from the Germans.
“As we approached Omaha Beach we could see the burning craft but we didn’t realise the extent of the damage.”
After the unforgettable scenes he witnessed in Normany, Mr Beardsley has returned to the beaches for the 50th, 60th and 65th D-Day anniversaries.
He said: “I was very glad I could make it for the 70th.
“On Friday we had to get up very early to travel to Bayeux, and I couldn’t find anyone who sold flowers. But a nice lady gave me a poppy so I could lay it at Gerald’s grave. He took some shrapnel on another landing craft and died.”
Mr Beardsley, of Oxford Road, Kidlington, remained on the Empire Broadsword in the month following D-Day.
But on July 2, 1944, the infantry landing ship hit a mine off the coast and sank.
He said: “I was in the canteen when we were hit and helped to evacuate the ship.”
Last Friday Mr Beardsley attended the 70th commemorations at Bayeux War Cemetery and took part in a veterans’ parade at Arromanches, attended by Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.
Mr Beardsley is also a member of the Royal Marines Association’s Bicester & District branch.
On the 50th anniversary of D-Day Mr Beardsley was presented with the D-Day Medal by the Mayor of Caen.
He has now put his name forward to receive the Legion D’Honneur from the French government.
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