One of Brechin’s oldest residents, Orlando Gallaccio, has spoken to the Brechin Advertiser about his D-Day memories on the eve of the 70th anniversary of that momentous event.
“You grew up in a day. We landed on those beaches as raw recruits and by the next day you had grown up,” said Orlando, now aged 94.
“We did things we never thought we were capable of but we had to, to survive. From that day until the end of the war all we seemed to do was run and fight,” he added.
Sitting at his home in Brechin, surrounded by photographs of the family of which he is clearly very proud, Orlando told the story of his D-Day landing and his subsequent journey through Europe. Orlando spoke clearly and at times poignantly of those days. Some memories made him smile, others just made him shake his head, look to the floor and get lost in his own thoughts and recollections for a few moments. He would then look back up, smile gently and move on to another tale.
Orlando may well have ended up fighting for Italy were it not for his parents decision to leave their Italian homeland while still very young. His mother was only 16 years old when she landed in Greenock while on her way to America with an uncle she decided she didn’t like. She jumped ship and decided to go no further. It was while she was in Greenock she met the boy, also Italian, that would become her husband. These two young people moved to Brechin and a new family line was begun. Orlando has never been to Italy and considers himself a true Brechiner.
He was 24 years old when, as part of the 15th Scottish Division, 46th Brigade and an infantry engineer that Orlando found himself put on a landing craft at Newhaven and making his way to Arromanches. His job was to be clearing mines and building bridges.
“There was a terrible storm in the Channel and we were all so seasick. I will never forget it. I sometimes think the only reason the invasion was a success was because no-one could face going back to sea again because they all felt so dreadful!”
“When we got there and the order came to prepare to land, the ramps were dropped and the first wave of men surged forward. They immediately disappeared from sight! The landing craft was on a sandbank with deep water all around so those men had to swim to get themselves to shore, wet and carrying all their equipment,” he said.
The landing craft moved and Orlando found himself heading for the beach with bullets raining down on him, bodies floating in the water and dive-bombers in the sky.
“The worst thing was the ‘moaning minnie’,” he said describing the multi-barrelled rocket-launcher that fired six rounds at a time. “The noise they made was awful and they just mowed men down. We were all terrified of it.”
After that first dreadful day Orlando, along with his comrades continued the march through France and on to Germany.
“You had to fight all the time. The Germans never gave up. We slept when we could in holes or trenches - we lived like rats. We could never wash or change our clothes and food was scarce.”
Orlando admitted that he didn’t like talking about those days and there are many stories he has never told his family. When asked what his happiest memory was, he couldn’t bring himself to tell it - for a few moments he seemed very far away.
One story he was happy to share was the day he met Forfar photographer Alec Laing, who spent the war taking pictures.
“When you see that picture of Alec and I what you don’t see is that just close by us a sniper picked off a German soldier who had been training a gun on us,”
Orlando’s war continued until 1946 when he finally left Germany and sailed back to Hull and was demobbed.
Finishing his tale Orlando says he enjoyed the camaraderie of the men and officers who fought alongside them. Strangely, he says he wouldn’t have missed the war, something that is hard to imagine if you weren’t actually there.
During past D-Day anniversaries Orlando has taken part in celebrations as chairman of Tayside and Mearns Normandy Veterans’s Association.
This year he plans to stay at home with his own memories and thoughts.