A WORLD War II veteran has given pupils a real life history lesson with a first-hand account of his role in the D-Day landings.
Year six pupils at Gurney Pease Academy, Darlington, part of The Education Village Academy Trust, listened in silence as former Royal Navy signalman Frank Hughes recalled his personal memories of the famous 1944 allied forces assault on Nazi-occupied France.
Fighting back his emotions, Mr Hughes, 92, of Darlington, who served on the river class frigate HMS Waveny, which controlled the assault landings of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade, said: “I was scared. I was only 18 and I was really scared.
“There were bombs going off and ships exploding. We knew that we could be attacked by German U-boats and the night raids by the Luftwaffe were frightful.
“I saw soldiers jumping off their ships and wading through the water, waist deep and then having to fight on the beaches in soaking wet clothes; it was terrible.”
Mr Hughes joined the Royal Navy in 1943, aged 17, after lying that he was 17 and a half to comply with the official enlistment age.
He took part in the D-Day Juno Beach landings in June 1944 and lost his RAF fighter pilot brother who died during the war aged just 21.
“We had no real training, said Mr Hughes. “We just did what we were told.
“One of my jobs was to play the bugle every morning and evening while the colours were being lowered and raised and to play the last post when we were burying the dead soldiers at sea – I didn’t like that part of job at all.
“I do feel very lucky that I survived and made it back home and I’m very proud to be a veteran. That is why it is so important to come into schools and speak to young people to let them know what happens in war, how we fought for our freedom and to make our country a better place for future generations. That is why we must never ever forget.”
Mr Hughes, who was awarded the Legion d’Honneur medal for his role in the liberation of France, also showed pupils his collection of WWII medals and photographs from his recent visit to Normandy for the 73rd anniversary of The D-Day landings.
Head of Year 6 Simon Heritage said: “This generation of pupils could be the last to have the opportunity to actually meet and speak to a D-Day Veteran.
“We feel incredibly lucky and privileged to have had Mr Hughes come to our school and to be able to realise real life events in history through him.”
Head girl Lucy English added: “It was very emotional listening to Mr Hughes talk about his experiences of the war.
“I feel very honoured to have met a real WWII veteran and to hear what he did.”