Northern Ireland veteran remembers “slaughterhouse” during Normandy landings


The beach was one of five landing points in Normandy where thousands of American, British and French soldiers arrived 80 years ago on June 6 to change the fortunes of the Allies.

George Horner, 97, from Carrickfergus, was a member of G Company of the Royal Ulster Rifles.

He followed in the footsteps of his father, who had fought in World War I, when he enlisted for military service.

70th anniversary of the D-Day campaign
A view of the beach in Ouistreham, Normandy, France, known as Sword Beach (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Of his six brothers, two also served in the RAF and one in the Royal Navy.

While following a strong family tradition, Mr Horner admitted it was an opportunity for him to have a hot meal every day at a time when, he said, money was tight.

“My father had served in the 36th Ulster Division in the First World War when I was growing up. I heard my father talk about his service and he always said he kept his head down, I never forgot that,” he said.

“I had six brothers. Four of us served in the military in World War II, two in the RAF, one in the navy and I was a foot soldier.”

When he signed up, Mr Horner said: “I think I wanted a change from what I was doing. I also wanted to have a hot meal every day because money was tight at the time.”

Veteran George Horner
George Horner said he remembers marching past Winston Churchill (Liam McBurney/PA)

After joining the Royal Ulster Rifles, Mr Horner undertook training in Omagh (Co. Tyrone), where he learned Morse code, and was also sent to Catterick in Yorkshire for further training in signalling.

Memories of June 6, 1944 are sad and moving for Mr Horner. He described the scene at Sword Beach as a “slaughterhouse” where “some good guys lost their lives.”

“We entered by sea. The approach to the shore was very rough. There were many landing craft, some of which sank around us because shells were hitting us from the shore,” he said.

“I had a bazooka that I used to hit tanks or blow up buildings.

“It takes two to carry the bazooka.

“I carried some grenades, the other boy carried the bazooka.

“I had the radio with me too. We were always told to aim at the tracks. If they got hit, they would just rain it down on them unless they raised a white flag to surrender.”

NI Assembly debate on budget
George Horner holds the D-Day 80 commemoration torch with Mason and Sophie from Forge Integrated Primary School and Speaker of Parliament Edwin Poots (left) in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings (Liam McBurney/PA)

Towards the end of the war, Mr. Horner moved to Germany.

He said: “Entering Germany was a tough fight. I remember one time when I was in the village square with three other boys and heavy fire rained down on us from the corner shop. I called in tank support, the tank duly fired on the corner shop and then the fire from the shop stopped.

“As I approached the destroyed building, I got a terrible shock.

“The people shooting from the corner shop were just children. All I could say was, 'My God, they're just children.' Towards the end of the war, the Nazis were sending children to fight, basically giving a gun to anyone they could get to walk around in a uniform.

“This Hitler Youth was indeed a fanatical fighter who defended his fatherland.”

Mr. Horner's war ended just before Berlin.

“We could have been in Berlin first, but they held us back for political reasons, they wanted to let the Russians in first, the Russians were a rough bunch,” he added.

Mr Horner also remembers marching past then Prime Minister Winston Churchill with the rest of the Royal Ulster Rifles during the Victory Parade in London.

Mr Horner said he returned to Northern Ireland with an injury, but that it was attributed to a friend.

“One of my friends shot me in the foot, I was beside myself with anger,” he said.

“He was an unpredictable person, a nutcase.

“He had his gun in his hand, the safety was off, and the bullet hit my foot. I won't tell you what words I used at the time.

“But we remained good friends.”

Mr Horner’s services were recognised by his local council with a silver poppy trophy.