D-Day was a ‘waste of life’ but most important invasion in history, says veteran

D-Day veteran Don Sheppard Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

D-Day was a “waste of life” which left bodies littered on the beaches of Normandy, but was one of the most important invasions in history, a veteran of the campaign has said.

In an effort to free Europe from the clutches of the Nazis, some 156,000 British, American and Canadian troops launched from the sea and air on to French soil.

Known as one of the most successful military operations in history, around 4,400 troops paid the ultimate price during the vast undertaking of D-Day in 1944.

Don Sheppard arrived on Juno beach at around 4.30pm on June 6 in a landing ship tank, with his scout car that was attached with a bren gun plunging into water as it entered a deep rut.

Speaking to the Press Association, as he looked back on the D-Day landings almost 75 years later, the 99-year-old Royal Engineers sapper, said: “I think it was a waste of life.

“I know we had to defend ourselves… but young guys like me 20, 21, who never lasted five minutes, some of them got killed before they got off the boat.

“Tragic, absolutely.”

But he added: “D-Day was one of the most important invasions, if you would like to call it that, of history – that is why it is so important. In my opinion anyway.”

Describing the stretch of sand before him, he said the beach was “littered with dead Canadians” who had landed ahead of his brigade, adding that the experience “was horrible”.

By the time he arrived at Juno, Mr Sheppard a dispatch rider, said the Germans had “really got the distance and shells were coming over like rain”, with battleships also firing over their heads.

“We lost quite a few guys,” he said. “We (the survivors) were lucky really.”

Sheppard fought on Juno beach Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

After arriving in Normandy they were directed to Pegasus bridge to help back up the British 6th Airborne Division.

“Our first stop for the night was in this big farm yard. Next to it was this open field where the Airborne guys were having their supplies parachuted in,” he said.

“Of course the Germans had zeroed it and there were shells coming over – a bit uncomfortable. Plus the fact there was a horrible smell in the farm.

“We thought it was dead people or whatever, but we went into this big barn and it was all cheese – French cheese – so we lived on cheese for a couple of days.”

But D-Day was not the first time Mr Sheppard, who lives in Basildon, Essex, had been in the line of fire – having previously served in North Africa and Sicily.

After breaking through Nazi lines in the August, he continued through to Belgium, Holland and eventually Germany – including to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

“I shall never forget that for the rest of my life,” Mr Sheppard said of his experience. “How one human could do that to another.

“It was terrible. They even got some of the local people in to help bury them, they pretended they knew nothing about it… that was one of the worst times.”

Now a proud father of three children, six grandchildren and four great grandchildren, Mr Sheppard said he was “extremely lucky” during the war.

Only wounded once as he took cover in a ditch as German bombs fell, he received a cut to his leg which he patched up himself with a bandage and carried on.

But following medical tests and scans a few years ago, seven decades later it was discovered he had a sliver of shrapnel sitting in his lung.

Mr Sheppard said over the years he never had any problems as a result of the piece of metal that travelled from his leg and still resides in his body.