75 years ago, the Allied invasion of Europe started with the D-Day landings in Normandy. My Granddad was one soldier who bravely faced the full might of Hitler's Third Reich ...
The guy with the X in the picture is my Grandad. It's from an old photobook about the Normandy landings on D-Day.
Edward Bernard Devaney, a private in the Royal Ulster Rifles stepped down from the bobbing landing craft and immediately regretted it. Being overloaded with supplies and ammunition, the weight of everything he was carrying dragged him underwater and the only way for him to surface again was to lose some of his kit. He dumped his standard issue fold-up bicycle and realised he had a long walk ahead of him! But he always said that decision saved his life.
"I loved listening to my Grandad's stories when I was little, and he had lots of them!"
From the beach landings, taking Caen, then on into Holland liberating small towns and villages, he could talk for hours about his comrades, his antics and the people he met along the way. In fact, some of these people became lifelong friends with my Grandad and Grandma visiting them in Holland many years later.
One of the most interesting stories he told me was set shortly after he disembarked the landing craft and had nearly drowned. Not being in the first wave of soldiers and landing a few hours after D-Day began, he easily worked his way up the beach and was marshalled into a small hamlet one hundred yards from the sea, ready to re-enforce units later that day.
The houses were arranged around a square and there was a tall church spire across from him. His officer had not been told there was a German sniper in the tower so as he walked nonchalantly across the square, the sniper opened fire and shot the man in the stomach.
Without thinking, my Granddad dropped his kit and rifle then ran towards the downed officer, scooping him up into a nearby hand cart he pushed him back to cover for medical attention. Afterwards, he told me, he was very surprised that he hadn't been shot himself, but just felt he had to try and save the man's life as he'd been so good to him during training.
The sniper surrendered a few hours later and as he was being marched away under guard, he stopped and said to my Granddad, "you weren't wearing a medic armband. I could have shot you, but you were helping your injured comrade so I let you live." He smiled at my shocked Grandad, leant in and whispered "not all German soldiers are Nazis. Remember what I did for you."
And he told me he never forgot it. I could see, even as a child, that that moment haunted him. He was in the crosshairs of a professional sniper and his life could have so easily ended right then and there. He said he was never that scared again the whole time he was fighting and tried to treat all the German soldiers he captured or that surrendered to him with dignity and respect.
"Of course, what he told me was a very sanitised version of what actually happened!"
You're not going to tell a small, curious grandchild the gory details, are you? He never told me that when he landed a few hours after the initial invasion, the sea was red with blood and there were bodies floating between the landing craft. He couldn't bring himself to mention the hundreds of dead comrades lying in the sand or that the smoke and fires from the initial attack made it seem like he was walking right into Hell. How could he explain something like that to a child?
And he never said how many of the enemy he killed, but having seen Pathe News pictures of him carrying his Bren gun as well as humping packs of Mortar rounds, I can guess that it was quite a few.
"The war took it's toll on him as much as on any other soldier!"
When I was older, he reminisced about being shelled for days on end and hiding in a foxhole listening to the screams of his comrades as they were either blown apart or driven mad by the constant bombardment.
My Grandma told me about the screaming night terrors he suffered for many years after his return home and my mother, author Vivienne Dockerty, told me how he was intolerant to her teen years and would snap into anger in a moments notice. He certainly knew how to keep a grudge too. Woe betide anyone who crossed him.
I had direct experience of his irrationality toward the end of his life. Having suffered two heart attacks, the worry of a third was really getting to him. Being a teenager, I carelessly left the top off the toothpaste one morning and I honestly thought he was going to hit me. On seeing my fear, instead, he threw me out of the house for a week as punishment while he decorated. Thankfully, I had college friends to stay with.
Yes, it was a completely over the top response to something so trivial, but after reading my Mum's book, Shattered Dreams, as well as remembering the stories he told me, the way he treated us was completely understandable.
"I still loved him with all my heart!"
The last time I spoke to him, he had taken to his bed with chest pains. I was supposed to be going camping with friends that weekend and offered to stay at home to help Grandma look after him. He refused, saying it was just a passing Angina attack and said "don't worry about me. Go enjoy yourself while you're still young". I hugged him, happy that we were friends again after our falling out and as I left the room I said "see you on Sunday Grandad!", he simply replied "Goodbye Steffi" and I never saw him again.
Edward Bernard Devaney died of a fatal heart attack in the small hours of 4th July 1986 aged 71. He is buried in Landican Cemetery on The Wirral and I picked wildflowers from the fields and hedgerows around our home for his funeral. I was so honoured when my Grandma insisted that my posey was to be cremated with him. I think he would have liked that.
"Husband, Father, Soldier"
Apart from his name and relevant dates on his headstone, his epitaph says 'Husband, Father, Soldier' and he always was a soldier to me. Even with his silver hair and rugged outdoor features, he was always smart and presentable and I could certainly see him in a uniform.