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WAR: Dartford Navy veteran played a role in D-Day operations
7:50am Wednesday 16th December 2009 in News
In part 12 of our Second World War series DAN KEEL speaks to a Navy veteran from Dartford who helped lay mines around the French coast on the night before D-Day.
BEFORE war broke out, Charles Lewis was busy working in a factory making timing-switches for street lamps.
But shortly after his 19th birthday in 1943 the youngster was thrown into action when called-up by the Navy After being trained to work on the minelaying ship HMS Plover, he and his 99 sailor comrades were tasked with venturing into the dangerous waters of the Atlantic Ocean from their base in Portsmouth.
Their job was to lay mines to protect giant American cargo ships from attacks by deadly German submarines lurking below the surface.
The father-of-two from Teesdale Road in Dartford said: "I worked as an engine stoker. We were responsible for making sure the engine worked properly and that the pressure was always correct.
"But when we reached our target zone I would jump up on deck and help lay the mines. The mines were all lined up on a rail and would be pushed along it and dropped into the sea.
"Me and my twin brother, Sydney, would make sure they were released cleanly and made it into the sea without getting stuck."
But after a year of missions in the Atlantic, the allies were almost ready to launch an attack on the Germans in mainland Europe.
The crew were pulled from the Atlantic and waited nervously on the south coast for their next big mission.
"There was a sense of excitement in the air", said Mr Lewis. "We knew something was about to happen because they moved us to Harridge as Portsmouth Harbour was bursting at the seams with ships.
"Lots of rumours were flying around and I think we all knew we were about to cross the channel."
On the night of June 5, the day before the D-Day invasions, HMS Plover crept towards the French coast under the cover of darkness - escorted by the battleship HMS Sheffield.
The crew's mission was to lay mines either side of the shipping lane through which the advancing D-Day troop ships would pass on their way to Normandy.
"That night was so tense", he said. "Usually there was a lot of banter on board but that night there was not a peak out of anyone. It was all very hush-hush.
"It all went off without a glitch, we dropped the mines without seeing any enemy and before we knew it the sun was rising and we were heading back towards England."
As HMS Plover headed back to the British coast, troop and cargo ships steamed past in the opposite direction heading towards the Normandy beaches.
More than 2,500 American, British, Polish and Canadian troops died attacking the landing beaches of Normandy.
Over 4,000 German soldiers were also killed. It was a further 10 months before war in Europe ended.
When Mr Lewis was eventually demobbed in late 1945, he returned to work in his Surrey lamp-post factory before moving to Dartford in 1958 where he has lived ever since.