From the Archives: D-Day

Jenny Seeman

June 6, 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Did you know that there were graduates of Royal Roads involved in the conflict?

The archives holds many hours of oral history recordings from ex-cadets recalling their experiences at Royal Roads Military College and its antecedents, the Royal Canadian Naval College and HMCS Royal Roads. Lloyd Williams was in the 4th class of HMCS Royal Roads from January to April of 1942 and by January of 1944, Lt. Williams had been appointed commanding officer of HMCS LCI (L) (Landing Craft, Infantry – Large) 310 of the 264th Canadian LCI Flotilla. He recounted some of his experiences from June of 1944 as part of the oral history project. 

Lloyd Williams at Royal Roads in 1942.

As Williams explained, an LCIL “carries a crew of three officers and about 25 men and had the full galley and sleeping accommodation. We could carry about 250 fully armed soldiers and we went into the beaches and we had ramps that came up the sides and went down into the sand, on the beach.” Over a 48-hour period, the naval side of the allied campaign was responsible for landing over 150,000 men and all of their equipment along a fifty mile stretch of the Normandy coast. It was known as operation Neptune and the Canadian contribution included over thirty of the Landing Craft as well as minesweeping ships, destroyers and corvettes.

Almost half of those Canadian LCIs were commanded by men who had recently passed through Royal Roads as Royal Canadian Navy volunteer reserves. They included G.E. Nuttal, G.W. Hendery, G.E. Allin, J.G. Wenman, W.R. Sinclair, V.D. Ramsay, C.R. Bond, R. Parker, H.M. Harrison, W.B. McGregor, A. Stephens, W.E. Charron, C.B. MacKay and L. Williams. Cullis Lancaster, a navigator, also joined one of the special LCIs that was equipped with LORAN (Long Range Navigation). This type of hyperbolic radio navigation was a new development and Lancaster was one of the few that knew how to operate it. He recalled the enormity of coordinating the operation on the beaches: there were hundreds of landing crafts coming in and they all had a place, needed to be there in sequence and move away quickly.

Cullis Lancaster, September, 1941.

Moving away quickly was not possible for Lt. Williams’ craft. The German defenses along this stretch of coast included massive steel tripods with mines placed on top of them just below the water line. On approach, Williams’ vessel hit one of the mines and it blew a hole in the bow. At the same time, another landing craft alongside lost control and hit one of the ramps that was ready to unload troops. A third vessel, passing closely on the stern, caught an anchor wire and left the craft unmoored. Despite the chaos, they were able to quickly unload the troops using the other ramp, but the LCI was not seaworthy with a hole in the bow and could not leave. They had to wait on the beach until low tide before they could assess and repair the damage. After seven hours of intense work, they were finally able to weigh anchor at the next high tide.

Lt. Lloyd Williams, June 6, 1944.

To keep up the supply of men and equipment, Lt. Williams made 13 more trips across the channel, ferrying troops to France as part of the Normandy campaign. His story is just one of the many memories of operation Neptune and the D-Day landings. Every memory is indicative of the bold effort to change the course of the war and ultimately bring an end to the hostilities, regardless of personal cost.

We will remember.

To learn more about the oral history recordings collection, contact the archives at Royal Roads University.