The 70th anniversary of D-Day has brought back poignant memories for the family of a Royal Marine from Preston who survived the Normandy Landings, only to die of a heart attack, aged just 45.
John Atherton Ralphs was only 18 when he and his Commando comrades stormed the beaches of Northern France during Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944.
He made it unscathed, unlike many of the young men who he fought alongside. But 10 months later he was badly wounded as the Allies pushed on towards Germany. His injuries were so severe he almost lost a leg and had to face numerous operations over the next 20 years back in Preston.
“But we never heard him complain,” said daughter Carol Love. “He was a true gentleman.”
Marine Ralphs, youngest son of John and Lily Ralphs, of Milner Street, Preston, wrote a personal account of D-Day, which his family later found.
It was titled ‘As Long As Men Remember’ and it included: “We were on our way, the Isle of Wight behind us, Normandy our objective. My thoughts were with my widowed mother, the tannoy was playing ‘Come Home My Darling,’ the singer Vera Lynn.
“Our turn to be lowered. The time was near, all hell lets loose, our small craft leaps forward as though propelled by a giant hand. Craft are sinking all around - mines, you can see them as the waves rise and fall. God, you can see men running into them - God help them all!
“Our stoker is hit, his legs paralysed. Another signaller down, he’s a gonner. Somehow you know. A voice bellows ‘up ramp.’ There is a sniper in the sea wall picking us off like sitting ducks. We are in the water, we scramble up the beach. No guns or anything. The front has passed on. We move forward, huddle in groups, lost souls surrounded by bewildered remnants of a great landing force. And still our job is done.”
Daughter Carol added: “He survived D-Day and carried on fighting throughout the remainder of the war until he was wounded in April 1945, two days before his 19th birthday.Watching the reports of the historical events that took place during the Second World War we appreciate and value the sacrifices that were made by so many, so young. And how proud our family have always been of John Atherton Ralphs.”