When senior veterans Fred Amess, 95, Roy Brookes, 94, and Brant Robinson, 101, had their names read out at Whangamatā Memorial Hall on Anzac Day, loud applause was all the audience could offer.

From the battlefields of the western front, to the peaceful beauty of Whangamatā, these men had not reached their 21st birthdays when they went to war.

Both Roy and Fred received commendations from the French Legion of Honour for their roles in the D-Day landing, but for Fred, Anzac Day is about paying respect to his father Richard, an Englishman at Gallipoli.

"I feel that I'm really there for him."


Fred's war experience began when he trained in his native Birmingham, England, with the local defence volunteers (LDV) at just 17.

"The drinking age in the pubs was 18 but if you were in the LDV and 17 you were allowed in the pubs. But you had to behave! The vicar was in there, the policeman and the captain of the Homeguard, who was the school teacher," he says.

As part of the British Royal Navy, Fred was with the Landing Ship Tank (LSV) and Landing Craft Tank (LCT) divisions of Combined Operations that included navy, air force and army.

He feels proud that he survived "the turmoil" of World War II.

"I was a bit apprehensive as we were approaching the beach on D-Day because on the starboard side there was heaps of black smoke going up beyond Juno Beach. But we had a duty to do, and it was good to kedge off."

He had trained — and slept — on the beaches of Scotland where he met Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander in World War II.

Fred was an able seaman on the winch house that let the ramp down, sending off the "tank boys" at the Battle for Normandy, and later, the Battle for Walcheren.

"The memories are still there. I was on the wheel from 12pm to 4pm sailing over the channel. We followed the blue light of another landing craft all the way. I can hear the drone of the bombers — the airborne boys — and I can see the deck I used to stand on.


"I reflect and say I was blessed lucky, especially through the channel in convoy. We were bombed and we were shelled, dropping parachutes on us, detroyers bombing us, we were like little floating ducks. They came by at such speed that if you were on the helm, it would affect your steering.

"Oh it was very exciting. It was noisy, I can hear the whoop whoop of the destroyer as if it was trying to say 'get out of the way, move over'."

Fred was 20 at the time.

Being exposed to sniper fire as he took the one-minute walk from stern to bow to his station was just one experience.

"You had such intensive training with other armed forces. It was no use being scared, although we did a fair bit of swearing."

His last action was the battle for Walcheren and he received a medal from the Dutch Government for his service. Walcheren was a vital part of the struggle to free the approaches to Antwerp, a hugely important supply port.

The battle is recorded by Associated Press at the time as one of the grimmest attacks of the whole war where heavy shelling from the enemy met the landing craft, many of which were lost.

"It was pretty rough. In fact a bit worse than D-Day," says Fred.

"The Walkeren boys, they really got into the muck with the mortar fire and the shells. I often wonder how some of those tank boys got on, whether they survived, because I can see them now, sitting on the gunnel on the starboard side."

At Walcheren Fred was thrown into a winch and taken to a hospital in Ostend, Belgium, and later shipped to England. He celebrated his 21st in rehab after staff kept him in so he could spend his sick leave at home.

Fred has lighthearted, as well as serious recollections and fondly recalls the camaraderie.

"Our skipper Lieutenant Glasborough was a World War I man, and he insisted that all had clean underwear in case you got taken in.

"He had a little bit of a hump on his back and we used to call it George," Fred says with a twinkle.

The Lieutenant owned a pub near London Bridge, and the men reckoned he got into their rum rations.

"At age 20 you went from UA (under age) to G for grog, and the skipper decided if a man got neat grog, a tot with one part water, or one part rum to two parts water."

Fred (centre) with daughter Cherie and fellow veteran Roy Brookes at the ANZAC day service in Whangamatā.

Fred still names the men he befriended or served under. One sailor who has "crossed the bar" [died] was Tommy Hefferman, who visited him before he died.

Tommy was in a risky position as anchor man standing on the stern of the ship.

"At Walcheren he growled at me when I came out to the stern because shells were whistling over me. The Germans were firing .88 guns at us and he said 'get up to the bloody front to your action station' but he had to stay there."

Some of the German snipers captured at D-Day were women, he recalls, and the Allies would shave off their hair when they were caught.

"They [the German soldiers] were sucked in by Hitler. We took prisoners back and I did really feel sorry for them. They were in a terrible state. There was no room and we roped off an area for them to stand in.

"They stood with their arms over the rope and hands in their pockets, like they were sleeping on a clothesline."