D-Day 80 The Last Veterans: Ken Cooke

Ken Cooke, Age 98, The Green Howards 

Interviewed 22 September 2023

Just 18 when he waded ashore on D-Day, Ken Cooke was an infantryman with 7th Battalion The Green Howards which crossed the English Channel from Southampton.

"When we got to Southampton Harbour you couldn’t see the harbour for ships," he said.

"The same at Portsmouth. They said you could walk across the harbour without getting your feet wet.

"We boarded a ship at Southampton, got into our bunks and played cards or had a chat. We were called up onto the deck and an officer explained what was going to happen. 

"We had rifle, ammunition and everything all ready. Then we were called on deck and we could hear this noise far away and you could see the flashes of explosions.

"At a certain time they said ‘right lads over the side to the scrambling nets.’

"We only had one experience of using those nets in Aldershot at an assault course. That’s the only time we knew about those is when we went over the side in the Channel.

"It was very dodgy because the large ship we were on was slowing down and the landing craft was going quicker so you had to be careful."

Ken Cooke was an infantryman with 7th Battalion The Green Howards. Credit: ITV Meridian

Ken set off towards the beach as explosions and the battleships were firing rockets.

He saw the crosspieces on the beaches that were part of the Germans' defences.

He said: "On that coast there was a strong current and over the years it had built the sand up under the water into heaps of sand and a landing craft coming in hit one of these lumps of sand, thought they had hit the beach and they dropped the ramp.

"The lads stepped off into about ten or fifteen feet of water with all the gear on. No chance.

"We were very lucky because the chap driving our landing craft got us to the beach and I stepped off into about six inches of water. I wasn't worried about the bullets or the shells or whatever. All I was worried about was my wet socks. I cannot explain that. I have tried but I can’t explain it.

"We had been told to get off the beach as quick as possible so we just focused on getting off the beach.

"Some people say they saw bodies floating in the water but I didn’t myself.

Mr Cooke was badly wounded by shrapnel and shipped home, only to be sent back into combat later.  Credit: ITV Meridian

"We were told if anybody falls down and gets hurt, don’t bother helping them, leave them to the medical people. I never heard anything to think we were under fire.

"We heard some explosions. We were told ‘get off the beach as soon as you can’ and we did that and went into the countryside."

It was only the next day that Mr Cooke started to appreciate what he had been through.

"You are having your breakfast," he said. "And you are looking around and saying ‘Where’s Billy? Where’s Harry?'

"And someone says 'Remember that tank that was blown up on the beach? He was standing next to it and got killed.’

"That’s when it got serious. When you realised the bullets coming towards you were real. And that’s when it hit us hard - to say ‘Well we have to go carefully.’"

Mr Cooke was badly wounded by shrapnel the next month and shipped home, only to be sent back into combat later. 

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