“Being in high spirits in spite of stress”, was how local WWII veteran Fred Petrie, recalled the eve of D-Day 70 years ago and his excitement at seeing the Mulberry Harbours being towed across the horizon off Hastings. He spent the night before the invasion in his hometown with his ATS girlfriend who was billeted at Sandrock Hall, dining out on corned beef pie and mash and then laughing at putting a top hat on the Queen Victoria statue.
Ore Village man Laddie Hitchman was among the thousands who landed at Sword Beach in the Normandy Invasion of June 6 1944. He had no real idea what was about to happen: wading from the landing craft to the beach Laddie was so overwhelmed he could not take in everything in. He said: “We ran towards the sand dunes for cover, through a hail of machine gun fire and shells. Men were falling and dying all around us; my best pal was killed in front of me. I remember one bloke I saw had been decapitated by a shell; not being able to tell who he was made it more horrific.” When Laddie came out of the army he found it difficult to settle. He took a job with Hastings Corporation, but after army discipline he could not take being ordered about by civilians. By 1948 he was with a civil engineering firm, building the sea defences at Pett Level. In old age Laddie spoke about his wartime experiences. “Just thinking about them triggers flashbacks and nightmares; I often wake up terrified and confused. It was painful having to kill Germans, just ordinary men like me. It went against everything my religious upbringing had instilled in me. I was finally sent out of the firing line because I was sleep-starved; I began shooting at imaginary raiders in the darkness.” He later became part of the army of occupation in Germany. He said: “After the war I made many visits to Germany to visit the graves of my pals. I learned German when I was part of the occupying forces so I was able to talk to the local people of my own age who, like me, were still asking why it had all happened.” In retirement Laddie was a volunteer with the Hastings British Legion until his death in 2012 On June 6, 1944 a boy was born to a family in Hastings All Saints Street; two days later his father went to register the birth with the name as D-Day. The registrar refused the name, saying it was a military secret, so the father showed him the newspaper headlined, ‘Second Day of D-Day’, and asked how much of a secret is that? However, he compromised by putting double e in Deeday and the registrar accepted it. Today, one of the Old Town’s best-known characters, Deeday White is 70 years old. Good wishes to him and respect and gratitude to all of our WWII veterans. Further Reading; Letters to Hannah by Victoria Seymour priced £9.99 available from Waterstones