A WIRRAL war hero will return to the scene where he fought during the D-Day Landings.
Ray Wilton, from Willaston, will make the poignant trip back to the Normandy beach at Arromanches where he guided the first wave of landing crafts through the deadly German sea mines.
As many struggled in the high tide or enemy defences under the water, 20-year-old Ray ploughed his motor torpedo boat on towards Gold Beach.
And now aged 88, he is set to go back there as part of the Big Lottery Fund’s heroes Return 2 programme which has given more than £25m to 51,000 WWII veterans.
Prescot-born Ray, registered in the Royal Navy in 1942, said: “I was raring to go. Two of my mates had already joined, so in 1943 when I hadn’t received my call up I just went down and volunteered. I was eager to get on and do my bit.”
He was sent to Skegness to do his basic training at a local Butlin’s holiday camp requisitioned by the Royal Navy and after eight weeks was sent to train as a telegraphist first to Aberdeen and then to Ayr where he learnt Morse code.
He was then promoted to the rank of Ordinary Telegraphist and was transferred to Southampton stone frigate HMS Squid as part of Combined Operations.
Ray said: “We were the central communication base for everyone involved in the invasion, the Army, Navy and Air force. I was manning a radio set when one day the phone rang and I was told that I was to be a replacement out at sea for a telegraphist with appendicitis serving on Motor Torpedo Boat patrols in the Channel. Our job was to look for German convoys and submarines hugging the French coast.
“We were more like a pirate ship really. It was a little boat and we all lived together, very informal. We used to wear boiler suits and plimsolls and put on oilskins if it got too wet.
“We were all ready for D-day which was originally planned for the 5th of June, but the weather turned awful so we were sent out to make sure that everyone knew that the operation would be delayed. We caught an American ship quite near the French coast and called out to them ‘Get back. We’ve been delayed!’ then after that we saw another boat full of tanks and we sent them back too.
“We also found the body of an American airman floating in a life jacket. He was very badly decomposed so we took his dog tag and then slipped off his jacket to let him sink. I later took the tag to the American depot so at least someone would know what had happened and could tell his family.”
With 25,000 troops landed on Gold Beach and the invasion well underway, Ray continued patrol duties on the Normandy coast, before being sent back to Plymouth Naval Hospital after a foot injury caused his leg to turn septic.
He added: “At this time the Germans were targeting Plymouth with doodlebugs so I was sent up north to Rainhill Hospital near home and managed to get seven days leave.”
Ray plans to travel out to Normandy with his daughter Deborah in the New Year.
Chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund Peter Wanless said: “We salute the bravery of so many who lost their lives in what became the largest amphibious invasion in world history and a major turning point in the European conflict.
"We owe a huge debt of gratitude and recognition to all the men and women who served across the world and at home during the Second World War.
“They built the peace and protected the freedoms we enjoy today.”