A D-DAY veteran from Lillington has been honoured by the French government.
Bryan Johnson received the Legion d’Honneur medal from the French government in recognition of the part the now 94 year-old played in the 1944 Normandy campaign.
Mr Johnson shared his experiences with Kenilworth military historian Peter Rhodes on a Normandy clifftop during a
during a battlefield pilgrimage in Normandy in 1995. The following interview was published in Peter’s book
For A Shilling a Day.
He was an old soldier, alone with his thoughts on a blustery clifftop in Normandy. Behind him, the white flecked grey of the squally English Channel. In front, the shattered remains of a mighty German bunker. Here, in a few immortal hours on June 6, 1944, the monstrous anger of the Royal Navy’s big guns was unleashed on Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. This bunker took a direct hit. Great chunks of concrete and shards of gun barrel still litter the meadow. As the German defences were smashed, British, Canadian and American troops swarmed ashore to begin the liberation of a continent. Sixty-one years on, the old soldier ran a hand thoughtfully over the cold, massive bulk of the wrecked gun breech. Had he been here before? As soon as I asked the question, it all came pouring out. Old soldiers who never breathe a word to their families about the demeaning, disgusting, terrifying and glorious business of warfare sometimes open up to inquisitive strangers.
His name was Bryan Johnson but everyone called him Dogger. Back in 1944 he was a 23 year-old tank driver, coming ashore with the 5th Royal Tank Regiment in the dangerous hours after D-Day. The narrow lanes of the Normandy Bocage countryside were a nightmare for the tanks. Endless ambushes wore down the nerves. Dogger’s luck held for more than a month. On July 18 hundreds of British tanks moved forward in the assault codenamed Goodwood. In the open fields his comrades were picked off like flies by the Germans’ formidable 88mm guns.
‘It was just slaughter. We lost 400 tanks that day. My co-driver was killed.’ By rights Dogger should have died, too. But by one of those miracles of combat, he was adjusting his seat in the tank and suddenly dropped a few inches. At that moment the shell struck. His co-driver, Aubrey Garrett, was mortally wounded. Aubrey took some time to die. Dogger did what he could:
‘His brains were all over the place. It is the only time I have ever administered morphine to a man as he was dying.’
As we stood on the clifftop, Dogger reflected on the unfairness of it all. In one flash of high explosive Aubrey died but Dogger got another 60 odd years. Dogger and his mates won the war, came home and kept their memories to themselves. On Armistice Day these survivors stand in silence with memories too terrible to comprehend. And if they shed a tear, is it any wonder?