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Fighting for home

The D-Day landings involved troops from all over the world, working together on the land, on the sea and in the air. Among them were European volunteers seeking to free their homelands from the German occupier. Few fought harder than the Free French forces as they battled to liberate France after four years abroad.

Leon Gautier was one such man - a Free French Commando, fighting under the highly esteemed Colonel Kieffer. He landed alongside the British on ‘Sword’ Beach and recalled the bitter fighting which ultimately unlocked the German defences.

Kieffer, our Commander, received a message: ‘Monsieur les Francais, we are returning home’. We left from the Isle of Wight which was at that time was known as ‘Piccadilly Circus’. We left around 10:30 in the evening, and we eventually reached the beach at 7:23 in the morning. Already the shells were falling all around the landing craft. The fear was not there but a feeling of apprehension - "will I get out of it?" we all asked ourselves.

Leon’s luck held that day though he had several near misses with bullets, grenades and smoke bombs.

We crossed the minefield but luckily nothing exploded, for a good reason as it turned out - the storm which had delayed the landing had hit the sand dunes and the sand covered the mines which rendered them ineffective. Bullets whistled by but none hit me, mortar shells fell all around.

Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade approach Queen Red beach, SWORD area

Making landfall

We eventually reached the beach at 7:23 in the morning. Already the shells were falling all around the landing craft. The fear was not there but a feeling of apprehension - "Will I get out of it?" we all asked ourselves. © IWM (B 5102)

Making landfall

We eventually reached the beach at 7:23 in the morning. Already the shells were falling all around the landing craft. The fear was not there but a feeling of apprehension - "Will I get out of it?" we all asked ourselves. © IWM (B 5102)

I was lucky to be in front because I had an officer I’d been with since 1940, Alexandre Loffie. We had fought together all that time and he had confidence in me. He said, 'you do not let me go'. I had a machine gun, and we didn’t even have time to pause, I never even looked behind me.

The more we advanced, the more enemy fire was restricted because the loopholes limited the view and restricted shooting. ‘No problem!’

We ran at full speed, as fast as we could to the blockhouses. We rushed inside, following the defences along the coastline from the landward side. We took each little blockhouse one-by-one and so on. A blockhouse is very hard to take; because you have to find them in the dunes. So, we launched smoke bombs first, and eventually advanced close enough that we could throw our grenades inside, and on we went.

Before I knew it, all was quiet, and it was 11:30 in the morning.


L. Gautier, interview, 2 May 2015 via libertyship

The Stories of D-Day

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