“D-DAY has come. Early this morning the Allies began the assault on the north-western face of Hitler’s European Fortress” announced BBC newsreader, John Snagge, on the evening of 6 June 1944.

Brian Healy, who lived in Amersham for 35 years, was the skipper of a landing craft which reached Normandy just after 9am that day. As it approached land, the bridge was hit by a shell.

One commando was killed, and a young officer wounded in the eye. Under intense shell fire, the remaining troops were unloaded. As the vessel was pulling off the beach, a mine exploded under her bow.

With the decks awash with water, Brian motored her slowly home for repairs and returned to France with more troops just two weeks later.

The Wavy Navy

Brian Healy entered basic naval training in March 1942 at the age of 29. When war broke out, he was living with his parents in Harrow and worked in a reserved occupation at the Gas Light and Coke Company. He was posted to the battleship HMS Howe in Scapa Flow where the Hon Edward ‘Richard’ Curzon (the future 6th Earl Howe of Penn House who died in 1984) was also training.

Whilst at sea in October, Brian learned of the death of his older brother. Dennis Healy DSO of the RAF Volunteer Reserve was killed whilst piloting a Catalina flying boat from Northern Russia when it was attacked by a lone Junkers 88.

In early 1943, Brian was transferred to a shore-training establishment for Navy Volunteer Reserve Officers. Instead of straight brass rings that circled their cuffs, VR officers had wavy ones and were often called the ‘wavy navy’. A highly intelligent man he literally ‘sailed’ through courses in signalling, navigation and watch-keeping which served him well when he was put in command of his own landing craft.

LCI(S) 352

Having opted for landing craft where he could be his own skipper, Brian was described as “capable and zealous” by his commanding officer. In October 1943, he was given his own boat LCI(S) 532 and awarded the rank of Acting Temporary Sub Lieutenant, the lowest rank of naval officer.

LCI(S) 532 was a Fairmile H design made at the Collins Pleasurecraft Company on Oulton Broad, near Lowestoft and now based at Rising Sun Quay, Warsash, near Southampton Water. At low tide the narrow channel of the Hamble River gave Brian excellent training experience for beaching on mainland Europe. Endless beach assaults were practised in the months leading up to D-Day.


For Operation Overlord (its official name) 532 was part of Division III, Flotilla 201 under Commander Rupert Curtis. Division III was to land 45 Royal Marine Commando regiment while Divisions I and II, 20 minutes ahead of III, landed 1st Special Services Brigade, known as Lord Lovat’s Scouts.

The bad weather of 5 June had delayed D-Day from the planned date to the following day. The sea was still what sailors call ‘lumpy’ and the flat-bottomed landing craft would have been rolling from side to side all the way across, causing severe nausea to the disorientated, anxious troops on board. When they arrived in Normandy three commandos had to be stretchered off because of seasickness.

As the invasion force moved across the channel they were protected by 1,200 warships. The landing craft were allocated to specific traffic lanes to avoid having to cross the routes of other ships on their way to the Normandy beaches. 532 was one of 4,126 infantry landing craft. In total there were 6,939 ships with 195,000 crew carrying 156,000 Allied troops.

Sword Beach

Sword Beach stretched from the mouth of the River Orne to the east of St-Aubin-sur-Mer and was one of the five Normandy beaches used for the D-Day landings. The others were Utah, Omaha, Juno and Gold. 201 Flotilla had been allocated to a section of Sword Beach called Queen and a further sub-division of Queen called Red.

As 532 approached under heavy shelling, Brian was looking out for mines and metal traps ‘hedgehogs’ which the German’s had littered along the beach.

Brian later recalled: “Tangle on the beach going in. Vision of a tank in the sea disabled with the voice of a wounded soldier coming from the open hatch calling for help. Tide rising. Nothing could be done”. When he next had time to look “the tank was awash, the sea had poured into the open hatch, inmates presumably drowned”.

Once on shore the commandos came over the bows of the landing craft to the beach. The design of these landing craft meant that the troops, laden with firearms, ammunition and, in some cases, bicycles had to walk a narrow landing plank to the beach. Many fell off!


After being damaged by the mine explosion, the decks and troop bays were pumped out to make the landing craft more seaworthy before Brian motored slowly back across the channel.

As 532 turned off Southampton Water towards Warsash, he met a launch skippered by Leading Wren ‘Jimmy’ Edwards who offered to tow him in. Brian told her “I’ve made it across the Channel; I think I can make it up the Hamble!”

After hasty repairs 532 returned to Sword Beach where it escaped further damage despite the constant shelling from inland artillery. For some weeks, the Germans contained the invasion within about a mile of the beach. However, on 25th July the Americans managed to breakout and Brian’s regular cross-Channel trips began to decrease. He was then redeployed to skipper a larger LCI(L) and later served in Burma.


When the war ended Brian proposed to Wren Jo Harper, who was serving as boat crew at Rising Sun Quay. The couple moved to Beech Grove, Amersham in 1946, later moving to Chesham Bois where they lived until 1981. Their son, Peter, a trustee at Amersham Museum has researched his father’s remarkable story, thanks to Brian’s vast collection of papers and photographs.