A SOLDIER who was billeted in Alnwick during the run-up to D-Day has finally been able to thank the people of the town for their extraordinary kindness, after his memories were captured by a journalist at his home in Derbyshire.
Ivan Tudge, who is now 86, landed in France as part of Operation Overlord in June 1944, after being called up for service at the age of 18.
In 2007, Rotherham-based journalism lecturer Gerry Kreibich interviewed Ivan – who lives at Darley Dale – about his wartime experiences, in which he paid tribute to the warm welcome he received during his time in north Northumberland.
But it wasn’t until this year, when Gerry had arranged to visit Alnwick, that he remembered the recorded interview.
So he brought a copy with him, which he gave to the Gazette.
Gerry said: “Ivan had vivid memories of his two years as a gunner, but he also spoke very warmly of the people of Alnwick.
“I felt that his tribute to the people of Alnwick should be given a hearing in that part of the world.”
Ivan served with the 13th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, having been drafted in May 1943.
In the interview, he said: “We loaded up and thought, this is it, we’re off somewhere, but we finished up in Alnwick.
“The guns were in Alnwick Castle grounds, under the trees. They came out and said all personal kit had to be put on the truck, we got a full complement of ammunition – that was 30 rounds.
“There was a market hall in the middle of the town, and we all slept on the floor in there. The cookhouse was a big Nissen hut in the castle grounds. You would get up in the morning, have your breakfast, wash wherever you could and then off to a gun party.
“After breakfast, everybody reports, and then the Matadors [Second World War artillery tractors] came so we went up into the [castle] grounds, hooked the guns up, then we formed up outside the market hall, where we’d been sleeping.
“We had a faint idea that they weren’t going to move us from there down south for nothing, we thought ‘well, this seems to be it’. We certainly knew we were on the move.
“The only parading we did was Sunday morning church parade, that was it. And the people of Alnwick were absolutely wonderful. You could be stood in the queue to go to the pictures or whatever and someone would tap you on the shoulder and say ‘if you want a nice dinner, you can come and have your tea with us’.
“I had some lovely times up there.
“On D-Day – well, we woke up and didn’t know it was D-Day, it was just the sixth of June – and there was a bit of a panic on. It was a normal morning, then they told us while we were having breakfast, that the invasion had started and we had to get prepared, that was it. All our battery was in the cookhouse. The Command Post Officer said ‘D-Day has commenced’ and that after breakfast we will report with guns and everything outside the market hall in the middle of Alnwick and form up there ready to move. So we did.
“There were all these people coming out of shops, giving us cigarettes, giving us chocolates, giving us all sorts of things, because they knew where we were going. They knew more about it than we did.”
The atmosphere became far more tense when he was tasked, along with his friend Johnny Toft, to guard the guns as they left Alnwick in convoy – with orders to shoot anyone who approached and looked like causing trouble.
Ivan’s unit drove south, stopping overnight at Doncaster Racecourse where they slept under the trucks, before embarking on a ship called the Fort Wallace at Wanstead Docks on the Thames.
Their departure was delayed, however, when a German V1 flying bomb, known as a doodlebug, slammed into a nearby barge.
Ivan finally made it ashore in Normandy at Le Hamel, near Arromanches, and saw out the rest of the war in Europe. He later settled in Matlock, Derbyshire, with his wife and son.