A 98-year-old D-Day veteran has enthralled fellow residents at his new Salisbury care home by sharing personal memories of the Second World War.
Commander Douglas Parish moved to Colten Care’s Braemar Lodge on the eve of the 79th anniversary of the famous allied landings in Normandy.
The invasion of the beaches on 6 June 1944 by around 326,000 troops from the United States, Canada, the UK and other countries was the biggest naval, air and land operation in military history.
It has been widely seen as signalling the beginning of the end of World War II.
Douglas, who was serving on the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Mauritius, spoke to Braemar Lodge residents while showing them his wartime diary and medals, including the Légion d’honneur, awarded to veterans who helped liberate France.
Having taken part in the Anzio landings in Italy earlier in 1944, HMS Mauritius sailed to the French coast as part of Operation Neptune, off Sword Beach.
Douglas, who joined the navy as an engineer and was a 19-year-old midshipman at the time of D-Day, gave an initial talk to Braemar Lodge residents in his first few days at the Stratford Road home.
He told his audience of D-Day: “I recall looking out at over 6,900 ships of all kinds. They were so close you felt you could almost step out and walk across them.”
Douglas explained that HMS Mauritius did indeed fire her guns and ‘took out’ some enemy gun positions. He said the ship was itself fired on by German fast-attack E-boats using torpedoes.
“Thankfully these missed,” he said, adding: “I have often felt that I did not really engage in the landings having been below decks in the engine room. I had to do this as part of my training. I was kept abreast of situations outside via a tannoy system.”
Graham Ballard, companionship team leader at Braemar Lodge, said: “Having had a tip-off from Douglas’s daughter Alison Larkham that he was happy to share his D-Day memories and still has his medals to display, I arranged for him to give a talk.
“He spoke to a room full of residents who were transfixed, listening to him give his account of the actual Normandy Landings and his experiences aboard the ship in those days.”
Fellow Braemar Lodge resident Norman Meech said: “I found it fascinating to hear first-hand accounts of D-Day from a Royal Navy veteran’s perspective. I wished it could have been a longer talk as there was so much information to relay and questions to answer.”
Douglas has lived in Salisbury for more than 50 years. He and his wife Betty had previously lived in Plymouth after their wedding in 1947. Douglas explained that Betty was already in the British Red Cross when the Second World War broke out. She volunteered for civil defence in a first aid post, treating those caught in the air raids during the Blitz.
After retiring from the navy in 1967, Douglas retrained as a technical college lecturer and took a post at the Aircraft Engineering Training Wing in Middle Wallop, where he worked for 17 years.
He and Betty had four children, 13 grandchildren and, at the time of their 65th wedding anniversary eleven years ago, 13 great grandchildren. Douglas was lay pastor at Porton Baptist Church for many years and has had a long association with Salisbury Sea cadets.