“The instructions I had to rejoin my troop were not very clear. I found myself on the road in the open and I saw someone down in a ditch, so I asked him where we were. ‘Jerries, a couple of hundred yards on,’ he replied. I had to turn around promptly.”

It was the start of July 1944 and Francis Goode, a 20-year-old lieutenant with the 4th (Durham) Survey Regiment, Royal Artillery had just landed in Normandy. He was leading a survey section with the initial task of linking up with the rest of his troop to join his regiment, who had landed on Gold Beach on D-Day on June 6.

Lt Goode reflected: “I could have so easily not noticed the chap in the ditch and gone on and been captured. We had rifles but were absolute sitting ducks for anything like that. It was extraordinary (good fortune).”

Now 98, Lt Goode’s recollections of his experiences during the Normandy campaign almost 80 years ago are compelling and moving. A Watford resident since 1953, he tells his story as a tribute to those he served with and to keep alive people’s knowledge of the sacrifices that were made. He has not always been able to talk openly about what he was part of and witnessed during the Second World War though.

“For many years after the war I couldn’t talk about it all,” Lt Goode explained. “Then my grandson was writing a book and wanted to know about things. I started talking to him and got over the problem because I did suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but I didn’t know about it. The name wasn’t invented until 1980 and this was in the 1950s. It was quite some time after the war and I didn’t expect it, I didn’t know what it was. All I knew was I needed to be on sleeping pills for two years.”

Watford Observer:

Born on May 13, 1924 in York, Francis Goode was the son of a decorated military surgeon who had served in the Boer War and First World War and was only 15 when war broke out in 1939.

He put his name down for the artillery at school and joined the Local Defence Volunteers, which became the Home Guard, when he was 16.

Lt Goode was in intelligence - “in other words information” – and was allowed to have his own bicycle to get around. He was also given a gun – from the 1870s. “It was really quite useless,” he remembers wryly.

He enlisted in 1942, joining the artillery and his regiment after undertaking various courses including survey and how to waterproof vehicles. He was responsible for training those in his regiment who waterproofed vehicles for the D-Day landings, which took place 78 years ago on Monday.

Lt Goode was originally scheduled to go to Normandy two weeks after D-Day, but this was delayed after a bad storm destroyed the Mulberry harbour at Gold beach.

After embarking, Lt Goode then spent three days off the coast of Normandy, waiting to be transferred to landing craft vehicles that would transport his own vehicle as close to the beach as possible before it was driven down the landing ramp, into the sea and onto the beach.

He said: “It could have been nasty if the weather had been bad but it was lovely and I actually got sunburnt for the first time in my life and played chess on deck.

“We didn’t know about the mulberry harbour (being destroyed). There were just some wrecks, but that was all part of it.”

Asked how he was feeling, Lt Goode replied: “I didn’t expect to survive. I knew the statistics from the 1914-18 war of the officer on the front. The average life was three weeks, so statistically I didn’t expect to. I just got on with the job.”

Watford Observer:

After landing in Normandy and his encounter with the man in the ditch, Lt Goode did find the rest of his troop at a farm.

The following morning the troop commander suggested he went out to see what survey points he could find, “then for the first time in my life I heard shells coming towards me.

“It’s quite a distinctive sound, so I got down into a shell hole and appreciated how good the 1914-18 helmet is. You may look silly when you’re walking along with that thing on your head, but when your head’s down when you’re being shelled it’s just right.

“I got my head as low as I could with the shells coming over. When the first load of shells stopped I walked to our side of the hedge and a voice called out ‘come down here lieutenant’. The American troops were there and their field guns were poking through the hedge. I was so green I hadn’t spotted them, they were so well camouflaged. I’d been walking about in front of the guns.”

This was the start of July 1944; by the end of the month the breakout from Normandy was underway as the Allied troops began to make rapid progress out of France, through Belgium, towards the Netherlands and then Germany.

By September 16, Lt Goode had established an observation post on the balcony of the central hotel in Antwerp in Belgium. The following day he crossed the Escaut Canal and “should have got to Arnhem in a day or so”. The Germans had other ideas.

Operation Market Garden started on September 17 and involved 12,000 Allied troops being dropped by parachute or glider with the aim of securing the bridge over the Rhine in Arnhem to secure a route into Germany.

Made famous by the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far, the operation was a disaster. The ground force arrived behind schedule after meeting far greater resistance in the Netherlands than expected, while two Panzer divisions were also in the vicinity of the Dutch city at the time. Around 4,000 Allied troops were killed, 6,000 taken prisoner, while 2,000 managed to escape back across the Rhine in small boats before the Germans realised an evacuation was taking place.

Lt Goode was in charge of a flashspotting section by this stage of the war – flashspotting locates enemy guns when they fire and their position is then reported back so they can be shelled by the artillery – and established an observation post in a church in Elst, a village 10 miles south of Arnhem bridge.

He said: “We were there for three days. Then I was moved back to my old survey troop and they were established in a village just in the south of the ‘island’. The ‘island’ is the part between Nijmegen and Arnhem. It was that night 2,000 troops managed to get back across the Rhine and we were standing by to provide vehicles to receive them. One of those coming back was a school friend of mine, Walter Mills. I heard about it later because he was quite seriously wounded, then he had leave in England and he visited my mother and said he’d got two hundred pounds worth of penicillin in him. Unfortunately he was killed later.”

Watford Observer:

Christmas 1944 is another significant period in Lt Goode’s recollections because it was when he started a diary.

He explained: “We were supposed to make quite a thing of it because it was good for the morale of the troops, so Ken Burton, my troop commander, took us to a chateau in France. We obtained a Christmas tree and presents for all the troops and Ken Burton and I were wrapping up all the presents until 3am on Christmas morning. One of the presents fell into a fire bucket, a diary, so we couldn’t give it as a present, but I hung onto it and started a diary.

“Of course there was the problem of capture, which was very real. We did lose people, so I wrote it in such a way they (the enemy) couldn’t get much information from it, but combined with my set of marked up maps it was a source of great information. I had this wonderful set of maps showing all the places I had carried out survey projects with the points of triangulation.

“Fast forwarding to April 17, 1945, I was leading a section towards an infantry regiment east of Hamburg and saw the brigadier’s caravan. Normally I had my sergeant, Stan Graham, driving me but this time I had another chap who was the only one who could drive faster than I could and the sergeant was in a jeep behind.

“I veered off to speak to the brigadier and the sergeant carried on and about 100 yards further forward he hit a mine. The sergeant’s leg was blown off above the knee, the person next to him, Edge, had his legs broken but the other chap who was standing in the rear of the jeep wasn’t physically injured. He got out and walked back but didn’t know a thing about it because he was concussed.

“The sergeant also had half of his face hanging out. He died that day, which was the day before his 27th birthday. It was so sad. He had been in the war since the beginning and had been all the way through the Middle East.”

The war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945 when Germany surrendered. Lt Goode was already back home, but it was to be a period of deeply contrasting emotions.

He said: “The war ended for me at 6pm on May 5. It so happened I was due for leave that day. I got back to Calais, where I boarded a destroyer and was taken back and I arrived in York on May 8. My elder brother Henry also arrived on May 8 prior to attending a course to become an officer. It was pure coincidence. We were both at home and of course there was dancing in the streets and things like that. It really was quite extraordinary.

“But when I returned to Germany a week later there had been a bonfire to celebrate the end of the war. Unfortunately, my unique set of marked up maps were burnt in the fire. If my sergeant had been alive he would have protected them, but my beautiful record was gone. It was absolutely devastating.”

Watford Observer:

Lt Goode remained in Germany for two years after the war, initially helping with the return of Russian prisoners of war before volunteering to help return other prisoners of war to their appropriate countries.

After being demobbed in 1947, he studied natural sciences at Cambridge University and went to work for Elliott Brothers in Borehamwood, a pioneering computer company for whom he was an exhibitor at the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Lt Goode taught maths for two evenings a week at Watford Technical College for nine years, and in 1953 he joined Sun Printers in Watford and ran their physics research department for 15 years.

After being made redundant in 1968, he returned to Watford College as a lecturer in the print department, continuing in a part-time capacity after retirement in addition to offering private tuition in maths and physics.

A measure of Lt Goode’s contribution during the war and since can be seen by his medals. One is in recognition of selling poppies for 30 years, although he has been involved in this for twice as long.

Another hangs from a red ribbon. This is the Legion of Honour, France’s most prestigious decoration, which was presented to him three years ago for his part in helping to liberate the country.