Sheffield WWII hero who described D-Day as ‘a bloody nightmare’ dies aged 96

You go onto that beach knowing full well that it’s not likely you are going to come back to your loved ones and the only chance you have to let your loved ones know you are alright is when you are one of the few still standing after fighting the most brutal war machine that was Germany.


Article from the Sheffield Star…

One of Sheffield’s heroes of the World War Two D-Day landings has died peacefully at the age of 96.

Bert Holmshaw, from Jordanthorpe, was just 19 when his landing vessel moored at Sword Beach barely two hours into D-Day.

But, just as the lads were about to disembark, the craft was attacked by Nazi fighter bombers with machine guns and bombs.

He remembered D-Day as ‘a bloody nightmare’ and returned to Normandy many times to pay tribute to the friends he lost.

D-Day veteran Albert Holmshaw

“My memory of D-Day is of the shells raining down, the sand erupting all around, and burning tanks and bodies everywhere,” he told The Star for the 70th anniversary in 2014.

“We saw bodies bobbing in the sea, washed up on the shore, and the beach littered with broken down trucks.”

Bert served in the 3rd British Infantry Division and his Landing Ship Tank had been scheduled to arrive for the assault on Sword Beach at H+2 Hours – 9.25am.

“But due to bad weather we were laid off on the Isle of Wight longer than expected,” Bert remembered.

“I spent the time being seasick, playing cards, and rechecking my engine’s waterproofing, because I was the driver-mechanic of a truck carrying tools and spares for Howitzer guns.

“The ship beached in Normandy at about 9.45am and we immediately dropped the ramp and started to unload the lower deck cargo of tanks and armoured vehicles.

“I was waiting to be lowered into the lower deck when we were attacked by two fighter bombers. One bomb exploded under the bow end of the ship. I dived under my truck for cover, completely forgetting about the trailer-load of ammunition.”

Bert, who years later was awarded France’s highest order of merit the Legion of Honour, eventually made it off the LST and across the hell of the beach, but always remembered one comrade in particular who was not so lucky.

Copy picture of D-Day veteran Albert Holmshaw

“All through the night we were continuously bombed and Jock Bell, our electrician, who survived the attack on the ship and the beach landing, was killed.”

Inland the next day, Bert and his fellow soldiers helped to liberate the village of Périers-sur-le-Dan – but it was here Bert lost another good friend.

“We were stationed just outside Périers when my friend Jack Bushem was injured in a shelling attack,” Bert recalled. “He was sent back to England for surgery but died on the operating table. Periers was the last place I saw him, so whenever I returned to Normandy I would stop and think about him there.”

Bert was born in Hillsborough in 1924. He married wife Betty in 1949, had two daughters Christine and Janet, and the family lived in Base Green, Hackenthorpe and Jordanthorpe.

Copy picture of D-Day veteran Albert Holmshaw

After the war he was employed as a mechanic and later worked for the Ministry of Transport, as a Senior Vehicle Examiner. His role led to a move away from Sheffield and work in Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Stourport, before he returned to Birley Spa Lane.

He and Betty eventually retired to Mansfield but Bert always kept up his affiliation with the Sheffield branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association.

Three-and-a-half years ago the great-grandfather-of-two moved to live with daughter Janet Holmshaw in Peckham, London, and threw himself into creating a new life down south.

He was a popular member of his local British Legion and before covid lockdown was out every day to groups and activities. During lockdown he challenged himself to complete daily “up and downs” – his name for climbing the stairs – so when lockdown was lifted he would still be fit enough to get around.

Bert was also involved with the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans with whom he travelled to Normandy in 2018 and 2019 with his daughters.Daughter Christine Orton, who lives in Mansfield, said: “He loved to go back whenever he was able and we were lucky to experience some trips with him.

“We have always been proud of our dad, but on these occasions we have been overwhelmed by the courage of him and his fellow comrades, heroes every one.”