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‘I was lucky enough to survive D-Day aftermath’

Posted onPosted on 14th Jun

A 100-year-old Mansfield man returned to the Normandy beaches in France as part of national commemorations to mark 80 years since D-Day.

Ted Rutland, a tank co-driver with the Royal Armoured Corp, landed on Gold Beach during the sixth day of the operation to free north-west Europe from the Nazis in 1944.

This June he went back to pay his tributes to the thousands who died, and also look on memorials for the name of his commanding officer, who was killed during a friendly fire incident.

When the second world war started in 1939, it changed life for so many people almost straight away.

However, Ted, who was then a teenager, just got on with things.

That changed in 1942 when he was called up and joined the Army.

Ted, well-known in the area for fulfilling most roles at the Mansfield branch of the Royal British Legion, including Poppy Appeal Organiser, remembers that his father had been in the Army during the first world war.

He told Ted: “Don’t join the Navy, they don’t have any back doors!”

Ted trained to drive tanks at Lulworth, near Bournemouth, after initial Army training at Warminster in Wiltshire. He then went to barracks in Catterick, North Yorkshire. “You didn’t think about anything really,” he remembered. “You were too busy doing your job and doing what you were told to do.”

Six days after D-Day he was sailing for Gold Beach with the 148 Regiment Royal Armoured Corps (148 RAC). “I was just thinking about whether I’d be lucky enough to get back alive. I was just thinking that I needed to survive,” he remembered.

With German soldiers firing at them as they landed on the beach in an American landing ship, his tank of five men managed to get on to a road and travel to Caen, where a battle was ongoing.

Ted’s job as tank co-driver was to remove dead bodies that had been left in the middle of roads by the retreating German.

“We never drove over bodies, “said Ted. “The Germans would put them there so that tanks would go round them, and instead drive over mines they had put by the side of the road.”

He drove Churchill, Sherman and Cromwell tanks, and as crews were flexible he also took turns as a gunner and loader.

After fighting in Caen, Ted and his tank moved on to Falaise, where sadly many of his regiment, including the lieutenant colonel who was commanding the men, were killed by American shells, when aircraft mistakenly dropped bombs on them.

“I will never forget what I saw,” he said. “It was scary sometimes, but you didn’t bother about anything, you just had to keep going.”

Ted couldn’t recall the lieutenant colonel’s name, just that he had only been transferred a few days before D-Day. But he made it his mission to find the lieutenant colonel’s grave and, after a chance encounter with a military historian, completed his task.

He found the grave of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Cracroft in Ranville Military Cemetery. He was killed on 13th August, 1944, at the age of 34.

Ted said: “I am glad that I found his grave and was able to pay my respects. I had wanted to do it and now I have.”

Ted’s visit to Normandy saw him sit alongside kings and queens, and world leaders, and he was mobbed by members of the public who wanted to talk to him, including foreign secretary and former prime minister David Cameron (below).

He was able to make the trip thanks to the help of friends and neighbours, Jane Seals, Martin Greaves, and Brian Hufton.

Reflecting on the war, Ted added: “Many tank crews survived, we were very lucky. If a tank was hit you were very lucky if anyone got out — all the five (crew) were gone.

“If they hit the ammunition it set the tank on fire. You never thought about that, you were just hoping that they missed you.”

As part of the 80th anniversary commemorations Ted also attended the unveiling of a sculpture at a gallery in Southampton.

Ted left the Army in 1947 and soon met his first wife, Valerie, when he was posted to the Church Army, working to protect food convoys.

The couple took a German Shepherd dog home with them when they returned to England, where they were married.

In 1953, Ted bought the house in Mansfield that he still lives in.

Valerie sadly died and he later married Anthea in 1987 at St Mark’s Church, Mansfield. Unfortunately Anthea died on Christmas Day in 2019.