The West

D-Day veteran watched as new era dawned

Having flown over Berlin and Nuremberg on multiple bombing raids, been chased by the Luftwaffe and copping flak from anti-aircraft guns below, D-Day was no trouble for Tom Lofthouse.

"If you don't mind me saying, D-Day was a piece of piss," Mr Lofthouse said.

As a rear gunner in a Halifax bomber, Flight-Sgt Lofthouse watched as one of the biggest moments in history played out below him.

It was early morning, June 6, 1944, and dozens of battleships including the "Grand Old Lady" HMS Warspite started bombarding German guns along the Normandy coast ahead of the Allied invasion.

"It was a terrific barrage," Mr Lofthouse, 91, said. Salvo upon salvo came from the battleships lighting up the pre-dawn gloom.

His 466 Squadron Halifax, flown by Australian Doug Winter, was tasked with bombing the artillery batteries at Maisy. They encountered little opposition.

"We had mastery of the air by then, mainly because we had destroyed the Germans' oil supplies - they had the planes but effectively no fuel," Mr Lofthouse said.

About 3000 Australians took part in D-Day, most in Bomber Command. Eighteen were killed.

Mr Lofthouse, from Australind, was one of eight Australian veterans of Bomber Command chosen to travel to Normandy next week for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Prime Minister Tony Abbott, French President Francois Hollande and other world leaders will attend.

But Mr Lofthouse's doctor has grounded him after he had a heart attack three weeks ago.

The Bunbury-born airman joined the Army in 1941 after fibbing about his age. He later transferred to the RAAF.

On the verge of being sent to North Africa, he was instead sent to York in northern England in September 1943 as part of a plan to replenish Bomber Command which had had heavy casualties.

Airmen in Bomber Command had a lower survival rate than infantrymen in World War I.

More than 55,000 members of the 125,000 Bomber Command were killed. Only one in six airmen would survive a tour of 30 operations. Only one in 40 would survive a second tour.

By the war's end, Mr Lofthouse was halfway into his second tour, completing 46 sorties, three of which were in the first 48 hours of the Allied invasion of Europe.

"I put myself down as very lucky but some people were downright unlucky," he said.

One of his hairiest moments came in February 1944 during an attack on Berlin. One of the four engines on the Halifax, named "Waltzing Matilda", cut out just 140km from the target.

Flight Officer Winter asked the seven-man crew to vote on whether they should push on.

The result was 4-3. The plane flew on to Berlin, steadily losing altitude until it dropped its load and limped back to Yorkshire.

That close scrape had been a "bit worrying", Mr Lofthouse said, but nowhere near as awful as things he saw above Europe.

"To see a city burning below you, thinking that thousands of innocent women and children were dying, was much more terrifying," he said.

After the war, Mr Lofthouse worked as an engineering surveyor. He and his late wife May had three daughters. In a nice twist, one of them now lives in York, not far from his unofficial Bomber Command HQ, a pub called the Nag's Head.

The West Australian

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