Corby Normandy veteran relives his wartime and urges us 'to live in peace and look after each other'

A Corby man who landed on Sword beach and battled his way to Germany has spoken of his experiences and the importance of supporting all veterans.

By Alison Bagley
Wednesday, 30th October 2019, 11:59 am

Jim Wigfield was 18 in December 1942 when he was called up to serve in the Second World War with the 123rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment of The Royal Artillery .

He completed his initial training, passing out in 1943, but it whilst stationed at Overstone Park near Northampton that he received is D-Day orders.

Jim, now 95, said: " We were at Overstone Park, where we had oiled the guns up and covered them over, when the officers were told about the invasion. We got down to Tilbury docks as soon as possible.

Jim Wigfield Bofors gunner with The Royal Artillery

"Our guns had to be lifted into the boat - vehicles in one compartment, guns in the other and soldiers in the middle. We stayed overnight on the boat near the Isle of Wight and then went in."

As they approached Sword beach and the French coast they were attacked by the Luftwaffe bombers.

Jim said: A German aircraft managed to get through past the RAF and dropped a couple of bombs while we were still in our boats.

"Another part of the regiment had got there before us and they copped it by the bombing. But we were OK in the boats. We lost two men then.

Jim holds his service book and the letter given to all soldiers, sailors and airmen from General Einsenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary forces during Operation Overlord.

"They lay on the ground, but underneath the trucks, and this aircraft dropped bombs that didn't explode in the ground but exploded over the ground. It caught these two and killed them."

Under fire from German guns firing from Le Harvre, Jim and his friends had wait to disembark and unload their equipment - some vital guns ending up in the sea.

After spending the night on the beach under the protection of paratroopers, his regiment got their orders to move forward towards Belgium.

Jim said: "We didn't see any Germans because the 'heavy boys' had done their job and chased the Germans off. We never saw a German, only a captured one. We felt sorry for them and gave them cigarettes. There was nothing we could do.

Jim during his time in Germany

Jim still remembers the smell from the recently liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as they passed by.

A man from each regiment was ordered to visit the camp and report back the horrors they had seen to their comrades.

"I can't say what my most frightening experience was apart from when the occasional bomber got through, but the RAF did such a good job keeping the bombers away.

"I had a lucky war - I didn't get into any real trouble. As we moved into Germany the anti-aircraft guns were useless so they were taken off us and we were just ordinary soldiers.

"We were used for picking up dead bodies out of the river and helped to bury them - cut off their name tags and gave them to the vicar."

Jim heard about the war ending by listening to reports on the radio of people dancing in the streets of London.

He said: "Nobody came round and told us 'the war's finished lads'. News got round and some of the lads were thinking we'll be going home tomorrow."

Jim spent another two years in Germany before being demobbed in 1947.

He returned to his painter and decorator job in Sheffield, where he met his first wife Isabella - moving down to Corby in 1952 where they married. She died in 1968.

They had three children and now has seven grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

He became the secretary of the Northamptonshire Normandy Veterans Association and afterwards was made life president of Corby branch of the Royal British Legion.

Jim added: "I would like people to buy a poppy. The Poppy Appeal will help people not only in 'our' war but the wars that have come since - and there's been quite a few wars since and people need help.

"We have got to live in peace and look after each other - that's what we've got to do."