D-Day Anniversary: Romford parachutist one of first to land in Normandy
PUBLISHED: 14:00 06 June 2014 | UPDATED: 07:35 09 June 2014
In the early hours of D-Day, 27 parachutists were dropped out of a plane behind enemy lines and tasked with “holding” two bridges from the German’s while they waited on allies, and the largest seaborne invasion in history.
One of the men was Sgt Alexander Christopher Runacres, of Romford, part of the 13th Parachute Battalion that set off from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire at 11pm on June 5 1944, heading for the village of Ranville in Normandy.
The men from the army’s 6th Airborne Division had to protect the crossings “at all cost” to stop the German’s getting to the beaches.
“They flew out the same time as the six gliders,” said Roy Goodey, Alex’s son-in-law. “They landed about two miles from Pegasus Bridge - they were dropped behind enemy lines. He was probably scared but he told me when people would ask ‘What do we do if the German’s come along, Sarge?’ he would say ‘f****** shoot them!’”
Three gliders landed on Pegasus Bridge and two on the Orne Bridge, capturing both. The other landed, wrongly, on the bridge on the River Dives.
Many of the parachute battalions drowned in flooded areas or were dropped in the wrong area - resulting in some heavy losses.
One of the missions of the 13th Battalion was to blow up “Rommel’s Asparagus,” 13-16ft logs placed in fields by the German troops as a defence against the allied invasion.
Alex returned home in September after contributing to the victory.
In December of 1944 he fought in The Battle of the Bulge in Ardennes, Belgium, where he was wounded, by a “bloodly great Tiger tank” that “came round the corner and blew us all over the place,” as he would tell Roy.
He was wounded again in March 1945 after jumping from Dakota aircraft, where he was left hanging from a tree, but according to Roy, jumping out of planes was something he enjoyed.
“He never spoke much of his war years, only after a wee dram at Christmas. He would say ‘When you jumped out of that aircraft it was a wonderful feeling, you were invincible. And on the ground you’d fight the devil himself’.”
Roy met Alex in 1960 through Patricia, one of two daughters Alex had with wife Enid, who he met in Romford and married in 1939.
“He was a very hard man, a likeable man but a quiet man,” he said. “He never wanted to go back to Normandy. One of the things he did talk about was something he called ‘ringing the bell’. When they dropped out of the plane, they would jump through a coffin-shaped hole in the bottom. They would push each other along the aircraft so they fell out together, because if one hesitated they would land miles apart. ‘Ringing the bell’ was when you hit your nose on the edge and you would get a broken nose or a twisted nose. If that happened you had to buy the drinks!”
He was discharged from the army in March 1946 after further deployments in India, Singapore and Batavia, and returned to his trade as a bricklayer.
He would also win prizes for his beautiful gardens in Warden Avenue, Collier Row, which he maintained through some unorthodox methods.
“He once fired, via catapult, his daughters’ nail varnish bottles out of the window to keep cats off his best roses,” said Roy.
Alex sadly passed away in 2007 at Queen’s Hospital, a stones throw from where he was born, after a battle with Parkinson’s disease.
He left behind two children, five grandchilren and nine great-grandchildren, as well as his military gear, which is now housed, fittingly, in the Pegasus Museum in Normandy.
A proud serviceman, when out in his car Alex could often be heard uttering the words “course I ain’t lost, I was a flipping pathfinder.”