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Hehir, Alec

Town : Northwood
Regiment : Royal Navy, Stoker
Landed in Normandy : 6 June 1944, Omaha Beach
The flashing of an Aldis signal lamp in the early hours of June 6th 1944 was the first real indication for Alec Hehir, of Northwood, Cowes, that they were bound for France. They were manning Thames barge 101, loaded with howitzer shells off the south coast of the Isle of Wight when they received the flashed morse signal "Hard a starboard!" which sent them heading south across the Channel. The coxwain in command, a Thames lighter man in his forties called into service with the Royal Navy and given the rank of petty officer, had opened his sailing orders which gave their destination - Omaha Beach. The heavily laden barges could only make three or four knots at best. When the wind got up and the sea became rougher on that night the vessel was making no headway against the tide and they found themselves separated from the rest of the flotilla. Eventually they were taken in tow to Omaha Beach. Here their shells were desperately needed by the American troops who, by that time, had pushed some way inland from the beach that had seen so much carnage during the initial assault. "We saw so many landing craft and DUKW's hit by shellfire from the shore batteries or blown up by mines as they beached," Alec recalls. "One battery in particular was taking a terrible toll of incoming craft before it was eventually silenced by the guns of the British cruiser H.M.S. Belfast." Alec and his shipmates spent the next few weeks ferrying ammunition and other supplies from coasters and liberty ships lying offshore. The barge would take soldiers out from the beach and they would unload the cargo into the barge alongside, working 12-hour shifts and sleeping in the ship's hold in between. "Many of the men were black Americans From the Deep South. Our coxwain had an accordion and he used to entertain them with old favourites from their homeland like 'Swanee River' Alec finished his Normandy spell in the British sector at Le Havre in January 1945. The end of the war saw him minesweeping off the East Coast.
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