As shells rained down on him a 24-year-old army sergeant, watching his friends lose their lives, got on with his job of delivering vehicles and equipment onto a Normandy beach.

Eric Thurston, from Theydon Bois, recalled his D-Day landing after the 70th anniversary of the first mission to the French coast.

His 26-strong unit was involved in the sixth day of the Normandy landings and was responsible for moving about 100 pieces of military kit onto Gold beach near Arromanche.

Mr Thurston said: “What I remember more than anything was being shelled all around.

“If you saw a man on the ground who was dead or dying you just had to walk past.

“There was nothing you could do; you just had to think they were one of the unlucky ones.

“It’s hard to remember now how it felt but you just had to keep your head down and get on with your job.”

The former armament staff sergeant knew little about the mission until he was on his way across the channel, but realised its importance by the magnitude of the operation.

He said: “It would have been a dreadful moment in the war if the allied forces hadn’t won.

“We had to do it; as far as we were concerned we had to win it.”

Mr Thurston’s group managed to get 100 pieces of equipment, including 80 vehicles, guns and search lights, onto the beach.

They were able to travel 15 miles into France on the first day and a further 40 miles on their second.

Before the mission Mr Thurston had been responsible for waterproofing all the vehicles to ensure they could make the short journey from the landing craft to the shore.

His unit had tested the vehicles in a swimming pool in Littlehampton by putting ramps in both ends and driving thee vehicles through the six foot deep water.

He said: “When we landed it actually turned out the water was only two feet deep so it was no problem.”

Mr Thurston was able to return home in 1945 having reached Hanover and spent the last nine months of the war overseeing a team, including 100 German workers, who repaired and maintained military vehicles.

The ex-serviceman from was also keen to get in touch with other D-Day veterans from the area and offered any help should they need it.