Photography by: Yasmin Carter
Words by Harry Potts
Born in 1924 in Ardwick, Manchester, George Simms is one of only two surviving members of 41 Royal Marines Commando unit who landed on Sword Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The 18 year old butchers’ boy walked into a Royal Navy recruiting office as a volunteer wanting to “do the hardest job possible” he was selected for the Commandos who were the first to land in Normandy as part of the biggest air and seaborne invasion in history.
On the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings George now 95 years old tells of his “absolute fear” as his commando unit were first to land on the beach and to come under sustained attack from the waiting Germans. “There were two German machine guns on the beach, both trained on the spot where we landed, and we suffered tremendous casualties.. you wouldn’t believe it”. George goes on to explain that hundreds of his comrades were left headless because the German machine guns sprayed their bullets at head height to create maximum casualties.
During the assault on the Sword Beach, he was blasted by an anti-personnel bomb which peppered his body with shrapnel. Twenty-four hours later George was carried severely injured from the battle by his comrades. Evacuated back to England, he spent the rest of the war in hospital but eventually made a good recovery, though he still has metal fragments in his body till this day. He was also awarded the prestigious Legion d’Honneur by the French government for his role in the Normandy Landings.
George explains. “Ninety percent of them never made it back.. that’s why they disbanded 41 Commando”.
“I’ll never forget the friends I lost that day”.
George joined the fire service in Stockport after the war, where his heroism continued when he was again badly injured rescuing a woman from a serious house fire, for which he received a bravery award. He retired from the fire service at 50 then worked in the civil service for 15 years.
George and his late wife Connie, had three sons and he now has 11 great-grandchildren.
He now lives at Broughton House, a home for armed service veterans in Salford. Broughton House is appealing for funds to build and run the UK’s first £14 million Veterans Care Village, on its site – just giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/broughtonhousehome
George visits local schools to talk about his wartime experiences and tries to help young children understand the sacrifices made by his generation.
Student reflection: Yasmin Carter
“It was an honour and a pleasure to photograph George and listen to his incredible story. I did the shoot at Broughton House home for Veterans where he lives. The building is steeped in history, so I chose to photograph George – who was wearing his blazer, medals and Royal Marines beret – in the home’s military museum. We then moved to the front of the building to take advantage of the historic background and take advantage of the natural light. George was incredibly chatty, friendly and accommodating … it was easy to forget that he was 95 years old. It’s not everyday you get to meet a true superhero.”
© All images – The Manchester College (unless otherwise stated)