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09:00 - 03 June 2004

General Montgomery stood in a dusty square in Sicily in October 1943 and addressed the troops standing before him. Among those troops was Aberdeen's Jim Duffus. For him that address was the start of D-Day

Jim Duffus stood in that square in Sicily along with other members of the 51st Highland Division and listened carefully to the words of the man they knew as their great war leader.

"You are going home," said Montgomery. "Not to parade about with your medals but to take part in future operations in Europe."

It was a profound statement, the seeds of D-Day had already been planted.

"We read between the lines," said Jim, "and we guessed that no matter how things were looking, the tide was about to turn. All of us there had taken part in the invasion of Sicily and we realised that we were looking ahead to the prospects of even more intensive activity.

"We put that to the back of our minds though as we landed back in dear old Blighty on a cold November in 1943. We were greeted by messages on walls which simply said: 'Second Front Now!'

"We had a glorious six months in the UK, rejoicing in being on home territory but also undergoing further training in preparation for the future operations in Europe which Montgomery had mentioned."

Jim Duffus was born and bred in Aberdeen and was an apprentice motor mechanic while also serving in the Territorial Army.

He joined up and was into action almost immediately but D-Day was to be the highlight of his army career, a day which he recalls vividly.

"June 6, 1944 saw us on a transport ship approaching the coast of France with the Navy blasting away with their big guns," said Jim. "Looking over the rail of the ship we saw the assault landing craft coming alongside and we were soon clambering down the rope net ladder with full kit and weapons.

"There was a swell on the water which made the landing craft rise and fall about six feet. The sailors on board shouted to jump when the deck was going down. We would have risked a broken limb with our heavy kit if we had jumped as the deck was rising."

At last it was time to head for the beach and Jim and his comrades prepared to fling themselves into the fray.

"Heading for the beach the American Navy commander announced that he would not go too far in as the tide was starting to go out and he did not want to get stuck and become a target. So the ramp went down and we clambered off in about four to five feet of water. The swell was lifting men off their feet with their heavy packs and tending to make them lose their balance.

"The soldier 'queuing up' behind me was a little chap and he urgently told me that he couldn't swim. I tried to reassure him and helped him down into the water which was very cold. He kept a tight grip on my arm while I quietly talked to him until we reached the beach with the sea streaming off our kit. It was not until later that I realised that in trying to reassure him I had actually helped myself to stay calm."

Immediately Jim and the others reached the beach they were into the action. "That beach had been taken a short time before by Canadians and these Sons of Canada were lying where they had fallen.

"We followed a white tape through a minefield up the sand dunes, passing the remains of a Royal Engineer who had been clearing the mines.

"We were all a lot happier when our boots hit the hard road and we quickly formed up into sections and started marching.

"Our trousers were soaking wet and we were chafing in places 'where the sun don't shine' but we kept going at a fair pace while, in true British Army style, we were cursing everyone from Eisenhower down!

"As we passed a field hospital with a row of bodies outside and the screams of the wounded coming from inside we fell silent. As darkness fell we bedded down in a long ditch at the edge of a field.

"I faced what I thought was the direction of Aberdeen and silently toasted my mother and father who had thoughtfully put a half gill of Glendronach malt whisky in my kit on my last leave."

The next morning there was a rude awakening as a German fighter plane flew over, machine gunning the field.

"It woke us up pretty quickly and we then moved to support our comrades of the 6th Airborne Division at Benouville, better known as Pegasus Bridge," said Jim.

"My battery commander, Major David Kirk, from Glasgow, and his driver Gunner Frank McClure, from Arbroath, were killed by a 'Moaning Minnie', a multi-barreled mortar, at 1st Gordons HQ, a few days later.

"About an hour before he was killed Major Kirk jokingly said to me: 'There's no future up here Duffus!' The two men lie together in Ranville Cemetery. I have visited their graves on the 40th and 50th anniversaries and, God willing, will do so again this year.

"Frank McClure was always singing You Are My Sunshine and after his death we never sang that one again at any Battery singsong."

The memories for Jim Duffus never fade. Like others who have survived to this day, their experiences live on in the sights and sounds of their minds.

"I have comrades lying at El Alamein, Tripoli, Sicily, France, Holland and Germany and I still think of them all.

"If I may, I should like to dedicate these memories to the laughing young faces of the lads who never got the chance to grow old."

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