The year was 1944. The day, June 6. Disley’s Harold Checketts was praying his forecasts were accurate and conditions were right for the 156,000 Allied troops on their way to invade German-occupied France.
He had spent three months preparing for D-Day, when British, American and Canadian armed forces, including his younger brother Stanley, stormed five beachheads on the Normandy coast.
Harold, then 24, played an integral part in setting the date of the landings as a naval meteorologist, which many believe led to the Allies winning the Second World War.
He and a team of three others worked tirelessly in four-hour shifts observing the sea and recording the waves, tides and swell for the Admiralty at the Allied HQ at Southwick House, near Portsmouth.
The 94-year-old said: “I cannot forget it; I can remember so much, that’s the trouble. We were charting the forecast for days to come off the coast. That was quite crucial. We had to do it as fast and as accurately as we could.
“We were with all the important people, Churchill, Montgomery, Eisenhower, Admiral Ramsay. It was beautiful weather in May and then it broke up at the beginning of June. We had to wait until it was reasonably positive to take the ships out. “Everybody was looking forward to this taking place. Everything was done to avoid having a disaster on our hands. It was important for me as I’d got a brother in a landing craft in the Channel waiting. He had joined the Navy to support me.”
It was a tense time, of DUKWs and doodlebugs, when danger was never far away. But it was also where Harold, of Dystlegh Grange, Jacksons Edge Road, met his late wife, Jean, who showed him how to use the teleprinter.
An ordinary able seaman, Harold had spent time as a weather forecaster for the Navy in Sri Lanka, before he was recruited to join Party 1645 in March alongside Jean, 20, Taffy Thomas and Pamela Pinks.
Everything was top secret and the group were forbidden to talk about their work and although they were unaware of the details of the codenamed Operation Neptune, they knew they were part of something big.
“On June 6, people were very quizzical of us. They could see we were in uniform. We were afraid of giving anything away,” he said.
Harold remembered the continuous, deafening noise of planes as they set of from the south coast off England, which marked the start of the largest seaborne invasion in history. He explained that there were several factors which worked in their favour. Firstly, the foursome had access to a weather station the Nazis were unaware of, at Blacksod Point in Ireland.
Secondly, the Allies had set up cardboard tanks in Dover, which managed to deceive the Nazis, as they expected an invasion in Calais.
And finally, as stormy weather was predicted for June, the Germans were unprepared for the operation.
While working at their Hampshire base, the grandfather-of-two explained his duties included scrubbing the floors, saying: “I remember one day, Eisenhower came into the room to look at the charts and I’d covered the floor with soapy water and it was very slippery.”
“I stood outside peeping in to make sure he didn’t fall over,” he laughed. “It was intense. If he had, it could have altered the course of the whole war!”
Originally from Worcestershire, the naval rating recalled: “We would often walk to the Red Lion pub in nearby Cosham. The landlord made a home-brewed beer.
“Sometimes Montgomery and Eisenhower would be there and they would give us a lift back in their jeep. You could get egg on toast, if you were lucky, with no butter.”
When the war broke out Harold was training to be a German teacher in Bristol. After the war, he returned to training and became a primary school teacher in Worcester and later a teacher training lecturer at Birmingham University.