Eric relives horror of D-Day 70 years ago

Eric Cain

Eric Cain

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Eric Cain had just turned 16 when he signed up for the Merchant Navy in 1943 – to bring in more money for his mother in Pulrose.

As part of a mainly Manx crew, he worked in the galley on board the Ben my Chree, one of three requisitioned Steam Packet vessels that went on to take part in the D-Day landings which began the invasion of German-occupied western Europe, on June 6, 1944.

Ben my Chree''(Ted Groom Collection/Steam Packet Company)

Ben my Chree''(Ted Groom Collection/Steam Packet Company)

Seventy years on, Mr Cain, of York Road, Douglas, will be marking the anniversary along with other members of the Normandy Veterans’ Association on Sunday at 9am. They will lay a wreath at the Salvation Army’s war memorial in Douglas.

‘It’s good they are all remembered but I don’t believe in glorifying the war,’ he said.

‘Kids get the wrong idea - they think it’s a wonderful idea to go round killing each other and it’s not.

‘A lot of lives were lost totally unnecessarily.’

After six weeks’ training at Sharpness, Mr Cain was sent to join a ship in Scotland – and was delighted to discover on arrival it was the Ben.

Serving as a troop transporter, the Ben ferried 2,000 men at a time from huge ships such as the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth to ports around the British Isles.

That stopped when the Ben was moved to North Shields in January 1944, to be converted into a landing ship infantry vessel, to carry six landing craft.

One of the masts and most of the lifeboats were removed, more guns were added, and she was painted in camouflage.

The crew didn’t know it, but it was the start of its preparations for D-Day.

Mr Cain remembers heading for France in convoy early on June 6 – with only a blue light on the back of each vessel visible in the darkness.

As headquarters ship of the Senior Officer of the 514th Assault Flotilla, the Ben and her landing craft saw action off Omaha Beach, landing American troops of the Ranger Assault Group at Pointe du Hoc.

The rough sea conditions led to fears that it wouldn’t be possible to land the six landing barges.

Mr Cain said: ‘They announced over the tannoy they were going to try out one barge to see if it could make it in.

‘If not, the entire ship was going to be beached and “look after yourself”.’

All six barges made it off and back, with the loss of about 80 men on the first day.

After June 6, the Ben transported thousands of Allied troops to fight in western Europe.

The Ben had a narrow escape when the convoy they were in was torpedoed.

Mr Cain said: ‘We watched one go up the side of the ship – it missed us by about eight or nine feet.’

His service on the Ben ended in 1945 after it was involved in a collision while going up the Thames. Mattresses and bedding were used to plug the hole until the Ben made into the docks in London.

When they arrived, it was assumed they had been hit by a V-bomb.

Mr Cain’s war effort actually helped to liberate his own wife, a Dutch girl who was being held in a slave labour camp. They were married for 49 years before she died.

He is now remarried to wife Audrey.

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