Footsteps in the Normandy Sand: Scottish War Blinded member Hugh Maguire reflects on D-Day Experiences

Posted: 05/06/2015 | Scottish War Blinded

On the morning of 6 June 1944, the combined Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy. In the hours that followed, thousands of soldiers would lose their lives as the fight to free Nazi occupied Europe began in earnest.

On that morning, Scottish War Blinded member Hugh Maguire was aboard a landing craft heading for Sword Beach with the Royal Ulster Rifle Regiment. Aged 24 at the time, Hugh and his comrades waited what seemed like an eternity before reaching the beach.

Fast forward to May 2015 and I am sitting down with Hugh at the Linburn Centre. We are going through a photo album from a recent event Hugh was invited to as a guest of honour to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Discussions move to his memories of D-Day and the days that followed.

Hugh recalls:

“We were transported via the landing craft towards Sword beach which seemed like a very long time indeed. The water was very cold and it was difficult wading through the water. Some of the lads nearly drowned and I was relieved to make it onto the actual beach. We were supposed to move forwards towards Caen but we didn’t get very far the first day as the German resistance was strong. But we persevered, slowly moving towards the objective.”

Once a stable beachhead had been achieved on Sword Beach, Hugh and the rest of the regiment moved inland towards Caen. The City of Caen was one of the largest in Normandy and an important strategic objective.

On 9 June 1944 (D-Day +3) The regiment was ordered to attack Cambes Wood supported by the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. They were met with fierce resistance from SS units inflicting considerable casualties.

Hugh continues:

“We eventually got to a place called Cambes Woods. D Company went in first believing only a few units of Germans remained but they were quickly surrounded and many were killed. We reinforced the attack and were surrounded by dead bodies, many of them mates of ours. We eventually took the Cambes Wood.

“We moved on to Hill 60 and it wasn’t long before the German artillery opened up on us. A good mate of mine took a direct hit and was blown to pieces. I was blown 12 feet in the air and had shrapnel in my back, neck and shoulders.

 “A corporal tried to send me to first aid but I told him that I’d never refused an order in my life and asked permission to take down the machine gun position that had peppered us that morning. He looked at me and said that I wasn’t to blame him if I got shot, I said that was OK as I wouldn’t be there to worry about it.

“I crawled my way up to side of the machine gun post and shouted at them to surrender. I shot two of them as they turned their guns towards me, everything happened very quickly. The other two surrendered, one of them an SS Officer, who I marched back to headquarters.

“I arrived back at our lines and realised it was the Kings Own Scottish Borderers sector who wanted to take the prisoners. I said no…they are prisoners of the Royal Ulster Rifles. I found our part of the line and handed the prisoners in. The corporal who had tried to send me to the first aid post earlier spotted me and escorted me to have my wounds looked at.”

Hugh returned to the UK to undergo extensive surgery to remove the shrapnel. Following six weeks of recovery, he returned to his regiment who had reached the banks of the Rhine. Hugh was awarded the Gallantry Medal for bravery and has been nominated for the Legion d’Honneur.

Long after his army exploits, Hugh began gradually to lose his sight. He was refered to Scottish War Blinded and regularly visits the Linburn Centre. He is now skilled in woodwork activities and enjoys Skype conversations with family in Australia, using our range of assistive technology with the support of our IT instructor. 

Do you know a veteran, who like Hugh, has lost their sight long after they served? Guide them to us