Maritime History

World War Two and beyond

Ken Oakley

September 1921 ~ 10 October 2007

 

Written by Ken at Fox 1 on D-Day.

“On board the HQ ship during the late evening of June 5, 1944, the senior officer of the beach group ended his briefing with the reassuring words: ‘Do not worry if you do not survive the assault, because we have plenty of back up troops who will just go in over you’. Reveille was at 03.30 and our target was Lion-sur-mere. The sea proved a little too rough for some of the soldiers on board our landing craft. There was much sickness, but as we ploughed along I could see around us landing craft and warships of all shapes and sizes. 

The roar of Allied naval bombardment passed overhead and soon we heard the chatter of small arms fire directed as us. We evaded all the small arms fire, but suddenly the dreaded steel stakes with mines or shells attached to them loomed ahead of us. Daylight was now upon us and the cox'n did very well to miss a shell attached to a stake on our starboard side. Then came the order ‘down ramps’ and our time had come.

 

From  Left: Ken Oakley, William Walsh and John Usher

One bodyguard to each Beachmaster. 'F(ox)' RN Commando Group 

Cowplain Woods, Portsmouth. Prior to D-Day Normandy

 

It was 06.10 and the Beach Master (BM) and I were quickly out of the craft and running up the sandy beach, as the mortar and machine gun fire sped us on our way. At the high water mark we went to ground to take stock of the situation and get our bearings. The BM said we had landed almost exactly in our scheduled area, but, as the mortar fire became more intense, we wriggled deeper into the sand.

 

 

Ken Oakley



My task was to protect and help the BM at all times. But when a stricken paratrooper called out for help it was difficult to ignore the cries and stay put. We seemed to be just outside the mortar pattern of fire, and suddenly a DD tank loomed up behind us. The hatch opened and a voice called out for fire direction. I called out ‘about 200 yards to the right 45 degrees’. ‘OK’ he said, the hatch closed, then bang, and the shell screamed over us. It was no contest, the mortar fire ceased and the machine gun fire subsided, with just the occasional sniper shots as we started to survey the beach.

More and more landing craft were coming and we were kept busy persuading army troops not to stay on the beach to brew their tea, but go and chase those German gunners who had started to shell us again. The Flail Tanks and other ‘funnies’ had done a good job in clearing the beach and we were getting good exit lanes marked off the water line on to a good road. Suddenly, the shrill scream of bagpipes could be heard along the beach and on looking to my right I saw a piper emerging from a landing craft. Following him came Lord Lovat and the remainder of the Commando units, which marched off in parade ground style. It was incredible, I’ll never forget it.

On D-Day Three, the BM asked me to attend the mass burial service for all killed in the beach area. We travelled a short distance to a large apple orchard. Here the bulldozers had dug out wide trenches in which the wrapped bodies were laid side by side. The stench was appalling and I was not sorry when the three padres had completed the service. While we stood silent among the trees, I reflected on how lucky I had been to survive.”

 


The first photograph I received from Ken Oakley -HMS Armadillo. Jetty at Ardentinny, Scotland

 

I have the sad duty to inform you of the passing of Mr. Ken Oakley, following approximately 8 weeks in hospital fighting a variety of different problems, he finally passed away peacefully in hospital with his family present.

His funeral was on  Thursday 25 October 2007 at 1.30pm at Christ Church, Colliers Wood where a church service was held, followed by a celebration in the church hall. During the celebration close relatives escorted Ken to Blackshaw Road Crematorium. Ken’s ashes will be put to rest at a later date in his Grandparents grave with his Parents ashes in Holy Trinity Churchyard, Dawley, Shropshire .

I met Ken at my late Father's funeral and he was instrumental in helping me find information on HMS Armadillo and HMS Prins Albert. Ken had seen action in Sicily after joining the Royal Navy in January 1940. He was part of the Royal Naval Beach Commando, whose objective was to organise the beach throughout the campaign for the forces to land. Ken Oakley was a seaman chosen to act as bodyguard to the beach master on Sword Beach on D-Day. He was part of the first wave and was on the beaches until early July, where he was vulnerable to attack. 

I, for one, am proud to have known him.

Rick Smallman
Port Macquarie
Australia