A quiet family butcher who served behind his Tyneside shop counter for decades was one of the first gunners to set foot on the Normandy beaches on D-Day.
Modest and unassuming, Michael Irwin Dickson set up his thriving pork butchers business after returning from the Second World War but few who came through his shop doors ever knew of his gallantry.
As veterans marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France, the family of Mr Dickson remembered their own father’s brave service as one of the first gunners to land on Gold beach in 1044.
His daughter Dorothy Ramser, who now lives in France herself, said: “The Dickson family are enormously proud of my dad - he never made much of his contribution to the Second World War, like all our veterans, but he fought in all the major battles from D-Day on June 6 in 1944 in Normandy, to May 8 in 1945 in Bremerhaven, having to become accustomed to the everyday horror of war.
“We should never forget that many young men made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom - many dads never returned.”
The day before Mr Dickson, who served as a battery sergeant major with the 86th Field Regiment, stormed Gold Beach he and his men were held at Needles in the English Channel in their boats tensely awaiting the signal to proceed to the French shore.
Dorothy’s father, who was known as Irwin, told her men endured a horrendous 24 hours of sea sickness - the worst conditions from which to launch an attack.
“It wasn’t very pleasant. You could hardly move around, every inch of deck space on the landing craft was crammed with vehicles and equipment – all chained down in case of rough seas. Some men on my father’s craft were sea sick, not caring, lying limp on the floor vomiting, some men were just quietly thinking, some tried eating, some played cards, or tried reading the French phrase book they’d been given - others tried to hide their tears,” she said.
At day break on June 5, the darkened ships tossed their way across the Channel towards the enemy coastline. A tannoy announcement received by the men onboard told them their life expectancy on the beach could be just 30 minutes.
When they arrived at 8.15am and with heavy shelling and gun fire from the Germans raining around them, the men unloaded their self propelled artillery guns down the ramp into four feet of water. One man disappeared into the waves as soon as he left the craft.
Mr Dickson and his fellow soldiers’ task as part of Operation Neptune was to fire at the enemy in support of the 6th Howards who were storming the area behind the beach.
About an hour after landing and constant gun fire they moved off the sand, to the first battery position at Ver-Sur-Mer.
Dorothy said the men fired constantly until the light faded at Martgrany. Eventually, as part of the wider unit the 50th Northumbrian Division, the gunners of 342 Battery penetrated into France further than any other force that day.
Dorothy said: “The Gunners of 342 Battery had been up since 3.30am, and apart from the odd mug of tea they hadn’t had anything much to eat or drink until after midnight.
“The Dickson family will be remembering all those courageous young men, who despite their fear, set foot on foreign soil to liberate the world from fascism. We owe these servicemen it all, without their devotion to the fight against the Nazi’s our future would have been grim.”
Mr Dickson survived D-Day and carried on fighting until 1946 and he passed away twenty years later in 1966.
When he returned home from the war he had decided to set up a butchers shop in Howden, having come from a long line of butchers and serving himself as an apprentice pork butcher in Wallsend in the 1920s.
In 1953 he and his wife Helen launched the present business Dicksons, investing their life savings in the venture in a shop in South Shields.
The business has continued to be family run and today there are 20 shops across the North East.