D-DAY ANNIVERSARY: Brothers in arms remember 'great adventure'

First published in Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Abingdon and Wantage, South Oxford and Kennington. Call me on 01865 425431

IN THE Second World War, four brothers from Marston left their small village to fight for their country.

Today, two of those brothers survive, and still live in Marston.

Stan Rhymes, 90, was part of the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, which marked the beginning of the end of the war.

Bill, 92, followed in his brother’s footsteps days later, stepping on to the Normandy sand and helping to capture Cherbourg.

Seventy years on, they both remember risking their lives under heavy fire as an “adventure”, an escape from parochial village life.

Stan served with the Royal Navy as an ordinary wireman – an electrician – on landing craft LCT 2292 carrying tanks to the beaches.

He was 21 on D-Day, having been in the Navy for just two years.

He remembered how, on the day before: “I was in the North Sea waiting to go in and take American troops across. The weather was bad so they cancelled it for 24 hours.

“By the time we got in there, there were already ships in the bay ferrying tanks in.

“The beach master came and told us to work along the beach, but we got so far they started shelling us from Le Havre.”

When his boat’s ramp was hit, engineers from the beach tied it up so it wouldn’t leak, then they worked back along the beach, picking up prisoners of war to be taken back to England.

Stan, who has a daughter, Mandy Rodway, said: “We just thought we were doing our job. It was just a bit of fun.”

After he arrived back in the UK, he and his unit were put up in the grounds of Queen Victoria’s former home, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight.

Ten days after the first D-Day landings, his brother Bill was part of the American-led attack on the strategically vital port of Cherbourg.

Bill joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Fifth Battalion in 1939, before war was declared but knowing it was imminent.

The father of five daughters remembered: “I joined up for a little adventure.

“Being born in the village, none of this [new developments] was here.”

As the threat of a German invasion grew, following the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk between May 27 and June 4, 1940, he was posted to Southsea.

“They really thought Hitler was going to land,” he remembered.

After that he said: “We were broken up and used as replacements for D-Day.”

Oxford Mail:

  • Bill Rhymes, 21, Stan Rhymes, 19, and Vic Rhymes, 23, in 1942

Bill was attached to the War Office Signal Regiment, which consisted of engineers and post office workers. Its role was to establish communications between Cherbourg and Swanage.

The unit landed at Utah beach after the Americans, who were tasked with capturing Cherbourg.

About five weeks after the French town was taken, on June 29 after fierce fighting, Bill was sent five miles along the beach to an old fort where they set up a cable to send and receive messages to Field Marshal Montgomery.

Bill recalled landing in four feet of water and added: “All our vehicles were water-proofed; the Americans put canvas around their vehicles to protect them but it didn’t work.”

The then Corporal Rhymes spent the next two years at the fort.

He said: “We had quite a cushy billet, mostly mechanical repairs and maintenance.”

One of the most memorable occasions was capturing a German diesel generator.

The day victory was declared, he said: “We just got drunk.”

After that, he spent another year helping with the clear-up operation, rebuilding roads and communications in northern France.

He said: “A lot of it was boring, but I wouldn’t have missed it. It was a big adventure.”

Stan said: “It was exciting, every day was different.”

The family’s eldest son, Albert, served with the RAF in London, raising barrage balloons into the sky to stop dive-bombers.

After the war he lived off Cowley Road, working at the Cowley car plant, and died in 2004.

Second oldest, Vic, served with the Highland Light Infantry in France and drove a Bren machinegun carrier on the frontline.

After the war he also worked at the Cowley plant, living off Cowley Road until his death in 2000.

Bill and Stan returned to their parents’ house in Williams Street after the war.

Bill went back to his old post at City Motors in Gloucester Green, and ended up working there for 55 years. He returned to Normandy once, about 20 years ago, on a commemorative tour.

Oxford Mail:

  • Bill Rhymes, 20, and Albert Rhymes, 24, in 1941

Stan never went back. He worked at the Cowley car plant for 35 years, then got a job as a gardener in North Oxford.

For several years after the war, food was still rationed in Oxford.

The family lived off rabbits and chickens and home-grown vegetables from their allotments.

Today, as the world marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day and veterans return to Normandy perhaps for the last time, the brothers still live in their own homes, just yards from each other in Marston.

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