World War Two veteran with sight loss recalls chance encounter with neighbour in midst of 1944 Normandy battle

Press Release | 05/11/2018

A World War Two veteran with sight loss has recalled the poignant moment he came face-to-face with his next door neighbour during the 1944 Invasion of Normandy.

Anthony Delahoy, aged 95, from Edinburgh, joined the Armed Forces in January 1942 – on his 19th birthday – and trained as a gunner with the Royal Artillery Anti-Tank regiment.

Aged 21, he journeyed to German-held France as a despatch rider with the 55th Anti-Tank Regiment on June 7 as part of the Battle of Normandy.

After lucky escapes from two German aircraft bombings on the journey over to Ver-sur-Mer, Normandy, Anthony had the briefest of reunions with his neighbour from home before making the dash to the beaches. 

Recalling his initial experiences of the landmark operations in France in June 1944, Anthony, who has sight loss due to macular degeneration and is now supported by Scottish War Blinded, said: “On the way over to France there was a submarine alert in the evening, but during the night the ship was attacked by planes.

“At first there were some near misses, then followed by a tremendous shudder of the ship. A guided bomb had hit and penetrated the ship but had not exploded.

“The bomb’s wings were sheared off on hitting the ship, showing masses of electric wires. The ship stopped and destroyers stood nearby whilst the bomb was defused, hoisted up and dropped overboard. It was a massive size.”

The ship made a delayed circular approach to Ver-sur-Mer, France, due to damage sustained to its steering, and while the vessel stood off shore was attacked again –  with near misses.

Scrambling down the nets into the landing craft, it was then that Anthony came face-to-face with its pilot: his next-door neighbour from his home street in South East London.

“What a fantastic coincidence,” said Anthony.

“Hundreds of ships and thousands of people, and you scramble down into the landing craft, and then, ‘Oh, there’s Jackie from next door!”

“Everything was happening so quickly. No sooner you were down and loaded into the landing craft it was away to the beach, which wasn’t far.

“I don’t remember saying cheerio to him. When the ramp went down on the landing craft you were off.

“I have no idea if he survived, I never saw him again. I hadn’t seen him since 1940, when our house in South East London was destroyed in an air raid.”

As a despatch rider in Normandy, Anthony took on recces around the area, reporting his findings to HQ wherever that happened to be as the front moved. The work of the anti-tank artillery was supporting and defending the Allied infantry from German armoured attack.

“I was sent out to see how far I could get. You were out for hours and hours and hours,” he said.

“It’s so crazy thinking about it. Going out, first thing, I don’t remember having anything to eat or drink. I’ve wracked my brains over and again. It’s very strange. What an experience, eh?”

On his third day in France, a recce of Brounay took Anthony even further to the village of Cristot, observing fields full of dead cattle and encountering enemy rifle shots.

On his late return to HQ, he discovered that he had been reported as missing, and was able to relay his Cristot findings.

“It was clear at that time, contrary to belief, that it was still in enemy hands,” he said.

“There are two things still that stand out to me. You can’t explain the noise. And the stench of the cattle, it was horrendous.”

Due to the concentration of Panzer divisions around the city of Caen the anti-tank regiment was moved to that area. Reaching the Hamlet of Le Mesnil Fremental after numerous close calls with machine gun and mortor exchanges, Anthony also maintained contact between gun positions at each end of the village of Frenouville.

The great-grandfather said: “To reach the gun on the right I had to pass a crossroad that was at times covered by enemy fire. To reach the gun on the left I had to go approximately 800 yards across a field.

“My approach was under observation and always came under fire, it didn’t please the gun crew I was visiting. My arrival and departure was watched with interest by the gun crew as motor shell explosions followed me closely. They had a ‘ringside’ seat and discussed which shell would find the target.”

After the breakout from Normandy fighting continued through Belgium, Holland and Germany, finishing in Europe in May 1945.

However, Anthony was sent to the far east after four week’s leave in England. But as he reached India the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, ending the war against Japan.

Anthony was transferred to the Gordon Highlanders 100th anti-tank regiment for the next year and a half in India.

He returned home in November 1946, after supporting the transport of 2000 Italian prisoners of war from Bombay to Naples.

He returned to work at the Co-op, before working as a tram conductor, and then embarking on a career as a school keeper.

Anthony has re-visited France on numerous occasions in the years following his war-time experiences as a young man.

And as Remembrance Day approaches, he feels it is more important than ever that present and future generations get to hear veterans’ stories.

Despite his sight loss, with the help of lighting equipment supplied to him by Scottish War Blinded, he continues to write down his memoirs.

“It is very difficult for the younger generations to picture the older generations as being like them once,” he said.

“My children are encouraging me to write all of this down. They are quite right. The memories are no good to anybody else unless they are told.”

Anthony is just one of hundreds of veterans with sight loss around the country who are receiving support and specialist equipment from Scottish War Blinded to enable them to carry on living as independently as possible.

Scottish War Blinded gives free support to former servicemen and women of all ages, no matter if they lost their sight during or after service.