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Stafford veteran's war memories - later battles made D-Day look like a picnic

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: June 14, 2014

By Alison Thomas

  • WAR MEMORIES....the Reverend Dick Sargent

  • D-DAY REMEMBERED... the Normandy Campaign memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum

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D-DAY was a "picnic" for Stafford war veteran the Reverend Dick Sargent - compared with his experiences later in the war, he says.

The 89-year-old former Royal Navy officer, who laid a wreath at the National Memorial Arboretum's 70th anniversary commemoration last week, crossed the Channel 40 times in the three months after D-Day, picking up troops from Torquay or Falmouth and taking them to the concrete Mulberry harbours set up on the Normandy invasion beaches.

Rev Sargent, of Deanshill Close, said D-Day itself was almost a routine run - apart from the bad weather - as most of the defences at Utah beach had been destroyed before he landed his contingent of troops.

"The country had been at war for years by that time, I'd seen the London blitz and been bombed and shot at before," he explained.

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"You just got used to it and got on with your job."

In fact his closest brush with death had been in the run-up to D-Day. He was involved in the notorious training exercise at Slapton Sands, which ended in disaster when a German E-boat infiltrated the landing craft. A total of 749 men, most of them US troops, lost their lives.

"We knew very little about what was happening at the time," Rev Sargent said. "We were just aware of explosions all around."

But he said his worst experiences were later in 1944, when he was involved in the fierce fighting on the Scheldt estuary, near Antwerp, and later on around the Rhine.

His landing craft was used to ferry troops around the estuary and land them on heavily defended islands.

"That made D-Day look like a picnic," he said.

"I saw so many young men killed."

By this time Rev Sargent was aged 20 - and thought of himself as a veteran compared with the young troops pitched into action against the German forces.

"They seemed such young striplings, just 18-year-old greenhorns," he said.

"They had such short lives and were going to be a long time dead.

"That got me thinking deep religious thoughts, and wondering if I had a role in getting folk ready for the next life."

Rev Sargent was selected for training for ordination in the Church of England while still based in Antwerp with the Navy, and sang in the choir in the VE day service in Antwerp Cathedral in May 1945.

He was ordained at Manchester Cathedral in 1952, and served as a vicar in Cheshire and Wolverhampton, before moving to Stafford as vicar of Castlechurch for 15 years.

After his retirement from full-time ministry, he was chaplain and part-time teacher at Stafford Grammar School for more than 20 years. He still worships regularly at Sandon Church.

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