A Forest Hill veteran who was the youngest known person to serve on D-Day has spoken of the “great sadness” felt on the 70th anniversary.
Jim Radford was just 15 when he served as a galley boy on a merchant tug in the biggest naval invasion force the world has ever seen.
The 85-year-old described the “panoramic” scenes of “death and destruction” during the landing on June 6 in 1944 which helped the Allies gain a foothold in France and end the Second World War.
The grandfather-of-five told News Shopper: “It was like being in the middle of a scene from a horror film.
“The main difference in action films is this is something not just in front of you, but all around, it is panoramic.
“It is impossible to show this on a film or a screen.
“You can’t convey the enormity and sense of death and destruction.
“You are very aware everything you see is really real.
“People who are falling down right by you have been shot and are dying.”
The grandfather-of-five, who has eight great-grandchildren, is joining hundreds of surviving veterans on both sides of the channel to remember the momentous mission 70 years ago.
Speaking of the anniversary, he said: “I think the prevailing feeling when these events occur, is one of great sadness because you are remembering the thousands of young men, many of whom you can remember, who didn’t come back and there is that terrible waste of life and potential and love and achievement that could have happened.
“Death is inevitable but to die in the prime of your youth unfulfilled is very very sad, tragic.
“It is a mourning thing.
“You grieve for people, not just for people you know personally.”
Mr Radford left the navy in 1954 and became a prominent activist and anti-war campaigner and is a member of groups including Lewisham Stop the War and Veterans for Peace.
The former journalist said: “There are occasions where war is necessary, in wars of self-defence or liberation – these are wars I would support in certain circumstance.
“But most of the wars we have been involved in are not.”
He went on to say he felt the Second World War against fascism was one such necessary case.
Revisiting the Normandy beaches where children now play moved the folk singer to pen The Shores of Normandy which is being performed at St Paul’s Cathedral this evening.
The final verse reads: “As the years pass by, I can still recall the men I saw that day
“Who died upon that blood-soaked sand where now sweet children play;
“And those of you who were unborn, who've lived in liberty,
“Remember those who made it so on the shores of Normandy.”
Speaking of the impact on a 15-year-old boy taking part in D-Day, he said: “It certainly affected me.
“But 70 years ago, life was very different. If you were 15 you didn’t have this teenage thing where people are allowed a certain number of years between being a child and an adult. You grew up much faster.”
In The Shores of Normandy, he also writes: “I little thought when I left home of the dreadful sights I'd see,
But I came to manhood on the day that I first saw Normandy.”