|JIM WAS GOING HOME TO READY
HIMSELF FOR FRENCH LANDINGS |
09:00 - 03 June 2004
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
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
"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
"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.
up and was into action almost immediately but D-Day was to be
the highlight of his army career, a day which he recalls
"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
"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.
'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."
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
"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
"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
The next morning there was a rude awakening as
a German fighter plane flew over, machine gunning the
"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
"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
"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
"I have comrades lying at El Alamein, Tripoli,
Sicily, France, Holland and Germany and I still think of them
"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