Harry Howorth, infantryman at Sword Beach on D-Day who helped to destroy a gun battery – obituary (2024)

Harry Howorth, who has died aged 102, served with the 2nd Battalion The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (2 KSLI) and took part in the landing on Sword Beach, Normandy, on D-Day.

During training for D-Day, Howorth and his comrades practised boarding landing craft and landing on beaches fortified with barbed wire while under fire. After a move to Scotland, he had to swim a certain distance in a loch with a small pack loaded with stones. It was November and snowing, and one soldier subsequently died of exposure.

The battalion then moved to Chailey, near Haywards Heath, Sussex, where they trained in night fighting and practised street-fighting exercises in London. On June 3, they were moved again, this time to Newhaven, where the Landing Craft Assault (LCA) were waiting.

They were supposed to set off on June 4 but bad weather postponed their departure. They spent the night in improvised accommodation and it was not until 1100 on June 5 that they finally assembled and left at about 1400.

Harry Howorth, infantryman at Sword Beach on D-Day who helped to destroy a gun battery – obituary (1)

On D-Day, the men were ordered up on deck at first light. The battalion, part of 185th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, was part of the second wave but there was still some stiff resistance from the Germans.

At about 10am, the landing craft touched down, as planned, at La Brèche D’Hermanville, Sword Beach, in four to five feet of water with a strong sea running. Howorth was on one of the gangplanks when a sailor holding it in place was shot.

The gangplank broke away and Howorth was tipped into the sea. He had been issued with waders but, in deep water, these filled, weighing him down, and he would have drowned had a comrade not disobeyed orders and stopped to pull him out.

One landing craft was hit by shellfire and sank. The air was full of smoke from smouldering tanks. The noise was tremendous. German fighter aircraft were strafing the beach until they were chased off by the RAF. Howorth came under machine-gun fire from houses at Ouistreham as he ran across the beach and took cover behind a burnt-out half-track.

An hour later, the battalion assembled in orchards to the north of Hermanville-sur-Mer before taking part in an attack on the ridge at Périers-sur-le-Dan, a key position overlooking the bay. Howorth was in Z Company which was joined by an attachment of sappers and was ordered to destroy a fortified battery of German guns. These were holding up the tanks and dominating the main axis of advance.

Harry Howorth, infantryman at Sword Beach on D-Day who helped to destroy a gun battery – obituary (2)

He recalled the moment when a sapper blowing the breeches of the guns was shot from a pillbox. He lay on the ground but, despite being severely wounded, he got to his feet and finished the job.

Then 2 KSLI liberated the villages at Beuville and Biéville-sur-Orne and Howorth and his comrades bunked down for the night in slit trenches in the grounds of the château at Biéville.

Three medals for gallantry were awarded to soldiers in Z Company. Howorth was recommended for a Military Medal but the recommendation was not forwarded by his division.

In September 1946, he was given a Commander-in-Chief Commendation Card describing him as “quite outstanding” in action, “very loyal” and showing “both the greatest cheerfulness and ability of a very high order”.

Harry Howorth was born at Southport, then in Lancashire, on June 30 1921 and was educated at Bury Road School. In September 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, he was a plumber doing essential work in the local hospitals. In 1941 he was called up.

Harry Howorth, infantryman at Sword Beach on D-Day who helped to destroy a gun battery – obituary (3)

He joined 2 KSLI and, after training as a signaller, he served in 1Platoon, HQ Company. After the break-out from Normandy, he took part in the Allied advance through Belgium and Holland before pushing through to Minden, Germany, at the end of the war in north-west Europe. James Stokes, a private in the same battalion, was posthumously awarded a VC in March 1945 for an action in the Rhineland.

Howorth subsequently served in the Canal Zone and Palestine on internal security duties before being demobilised in 1948. He returned to his job as a plumber before working with the Gas Board as a central heating engineer.

After retiring at 65, Howorth settled in Southport. He had a boat called Popeye and he used to go fishing off the coast at Blackpool. He also went on cruises and enjoyed classical music, jazz, attending concerts and ballroom dancing. At the age of 98, he was appointed to the Légion d’honneur for his contribution to the liberation of France and in 2019 he took part in the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy.

It was only then that he started to talk about his wartime experiences. He had lost many friends, he said, and it was too painful. He was interviewed for a film, Témoignages de Guerre, which is being shown at Sword Beach as part of the D-Day Swing Festival.

Harry Howorth married, in 1946, Edna Vera Strongitharm. She predeceased him and he is survived by their daughter.

Harry Howorth, born June 30 1921, died April 17 2024

Harry Howorth, infantryman at Sword Beach on D-Day who helped to destroy a gun battery – obituary (2024)
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