Ted Cordery is a military veteran who saw action in World War II, specifically the invasion of Normandy. However, as he revealed in an interview with Good Morning Britain, the retired soldier never forgot what he saw. Emotion overcame him as a result, and his unsuppressed tears broke viewers’ hearts.
Despite choking up, Cordery spoke openly about his service in honor of June 2019’s D-Day anniversary. He recounted some of the most memorable experiences he had had, then explained why they’d stayed with him to this day. And while Cordery is a hero, he is also humble enough to object to that description.
Nevertheless, Good Morning Britain watched as Cordery poured his heart out to the nation. After his tears, viewers rallied behind the D-Day survivor by sending him messages of gratitude and goodwill. And considering everything he had gone through, it’s no surprise that Cordery had picked up some tear-jerking memories along the way.
Although we may never understand the veteran’s ordeals without experiencing them first-hand, learning more about D-Day helps. The milestone has many other names, including the invasion of Normandy and its wartime codename, Operation Neptune. That’s an appropriate title too, considering that it was the biggest sea-based incursion known to man.
During World War II, Adolf Hitler and his Axis forces tried to seize power across the globe. France was just one of the many countries invading Nazi armies swept up in their wake. However, in 1943 the Allies conceived a plan to free France from Germany’s control. They called it Operation Overlord.
The strategy in question received its name because of its design to misdirect German forces and leave France exposed. Allied forces actually implemented Operation Overlord the next year on June 6, 1944. They targeted Normandy beaches – situated on France’s northern coast – as the site for an all-out invasion by land, sea and air.
However, the weather on the targeted date wasn’t optimal, and it worked against the Allies. With this in mind, strategists initially postponed the invasion for a day, but conditions remained hostile. Since military minds had planned the operation in accord with tidal movement and moon phase, they could not accept further delay.
Despite unfavorable weather, the invasion of Normandy went ahead as scheduled, and the Allies struck the coast. An army of 156,000 soldiers and a further 195,700 navy servicemen arrived to liberate France. Airborne attacks also later followed. But even with Operation Overlord in full effect, the Allied forces still encountered resistance in the form of the Atlantic Wall.
Allegedly built on the metaphorical backs of a million French laborers under orders from Hitler, the wall spanned two coasts. It stretched across most of Europe including Scandinavia to protect Nazi territory against invasion. Furthermore, the Atlantic Wall attracted a lot of propaganda owing to its formidable defences and manpower.
Although some of the wall’s reputation was the product of hyperbole, it still bristled with mortars, batteries, artillery and coastal guns. Coupled with ground defences such as minefields and barbed wire fences, it looked a difficult obstacle to surmount. Nevertheless, just hours after hitting the beaches, Allied forces conquered the Atlantic Wall and headed further inland.
The landings on D-Day succeeded, but they were just the start of the military scheme that made up Operation Overlord. D-Day ultimately played an instrumental role in the war and paved the way for the Allies to repel Axis powers. Freedom came at a price though: thousands of men lost their lives in the battle.
The actual number of fighters lost in the Battle of Normandy is hard to quantify given the chaos. At least 4,414 Allied soldiers died in battle, though casualties are suspected to be as high as 10,000 – perhaps more. Meanwhile, anywhere from 4,000 to 9,000 German soldiers perished defending the Atlantic Wall.
Ted Cordery is one soldier who served with the Allies and survived to tell the tale. During WWII, conscription – or compulsorily enlistment of people able enough to serve in the army – was in effect. As a result, the government drafted Cordery when he turned 18, and he joined the Allied forces in the Normandy invasion.
During his service, Cordery was leading seaman torpedoman aboard a Royal Navy light cruiser called the H.M.S. Belfast. Nowadays, the Imperial War Museum has the Belfast docked on the River Thames in London as a memorial ship. But back then she played an important role in WWII, both during D-Day and before it.
Specifically, the Belfast saw action in the Battle of North Cape safeguarding the Arctic Convoys. Her crew undertook the mission to ensure that Russia (called the Soviet Union at the time) received vital provisions. The unit ran security for the convoy ships and later briefly pursued the German battleship Scharnhorst by herself.
Even when the Belfast wasn’t engaging enemy ships, there was little reprieve for her crew. Punishing weather and challenging seasonal conditions made work aboard the ship not only challenging but tedious. And then Cordery was called to action when the Allies deployed the ship to Normandy’s coast.
However, despite the Allies’ goal, not everyone welcomed the soldiers with open arms. Cordery told the Imperial War Museum website in 2018 what had happened when he had first joined the Allied ground troops. “I was along a beach,” the veteran said, “and a Frenchman came by – an elderly man, because I was only 20 – an elderly man, and he spat at me.”
The vet continued, “He was on a cycle. And I thought to myself, you old… I won’t tell you what I said. So I got hold of him, and my [petty officer] said, ‘Cordery!’” Apparently, Cordery planned to throw the Frenchman into the sea, but he was soon grateful for his superior’s intervention.
“This man went on, and then I started to think,” Cordery recalled. “What has he got to thank me for when I might have blown his blooming house apart? I thought to myself, I’m sorry I took that attitude to him, because what has he got to thank us for?”
Cordery stated that anything in the area would be leveled by artillery and bombings, so he understood the cyclist’s reaction. But the veteran’s anecdote occurred a little after his arrival at the Normandy beaches, which proved a harrowing experience. The talk show Good Morning Britain also spoke with Cordery for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in June 2019.
Cordery told the Good Morning Britain presenters that he had known the Normandy invasion had been important when he had seen the massed forces. “When we got there, there were hundreds and hundreds of these… landing craft,” Cordery said. “And we thought, well there’s something amiss, and then we were told that we were going to open up on the second fronts.”
Furthermore, Cordery revealed that a lot of soldiers hadn’t had his sea legs, especially where flat-bottomed boats had been concerned. The veteran explained that that kind of sea craft bounced wildly on the water. “Some of those men must have been very seasick, I felt very sorry for them,” he elaborated.
“As soon as that flap went down, however they felt they were out onto a beach,” Cordery said. “A hostile beach. Many of them were killed… many of them.” And perhaps due to his experience at sea, the vet also noticed that some soldiers were doomed before they reached land.
Indeed, Cordery witnessed some ships that didn’t reach far enough inland before depositing their soldiers. He continued, “Unfortunately, some of the boats fell short of the beach and dropped the men in deep water.” Cordery explained with teary eyes how he had watched those recruits struggle for and ultimately lose their lives.
“I’ve seen men struggling in deep water and never really come through,” Cordery added. “They were drowned before they even got to the beach.” Yet as traumatic as that sounds, it’s not even the most haunting thing that the vet has seen. He encountered those horrors on a D-Day train.
The veteran recalled that he had ridden a train filled with soldiers injured in the conflict with the Germans. “Now these wounded soldiers, they could have been wounded a mile or two miles inland,” Cordery told Good Morning Britain. “And they were then put in a cart, brought down to the beach.”
However, before Cordery could finish his sentence, the weight of the memories overwhelmed him. “I’m going to cry,” he exclaimed, and he broke down in tears. For a few heart-breaking seconds the vet couldn’t bring himself to speak. Then he managed to choke out a short sentence, “The wounds, terrible, terrible wounds.”
Poor Cordery must have seen some of the worst casualties as a consequence of the Normandy conflict. The devastation stays with him to this day, as does the scale of death that followed. Although the men were inbound for the sick bays, according to Cordery very few made it out alive.
The retired soldier said that films and TV focused more on firefights and didn’t accurately depict war’s horror. The truth is far less glamorous, as the injuries caused by explosions or bullets prove. Just thinking about it sent Cordery into another series of emotional sobs, which he apologized to his hosts for.
However, the Good Morning Britain presenters reminded Cordery that he had nothing to be sorry for. In fact, the messages that poured in from the general public confirmed their reassurances. “Don’t be ashamed of your tears,” one person wrote, “they are what your heart’s about.” Another viewer said, “It’s breaking my heart watching him, but we’re so grateful.”
Cordery admitted that he wasn’t concerned about letting his emotions show, though. “It’s such a waste of young life,” the veteran said in reference to his train experience. “I try to imagine how those men suffered being transferred from perhaps a mile or two inland to the ship.”
“And the injuries,” Cordery added, “I couldn’t believe it, honestly. I won’t go into it any more, but you couldn’t have worse.” It would seem that Cordery wasn’t the only one crying as he relived his memories, though. Other viewers later confessed that the former soldier’s emotional story moved them to tears too.
“[Cordery] is truly amazing, dignified and respectful,” a person wrote. “His interview brought me to tears. The things he and so many others saw and went through should never be forgotten. Today’s youth could learn an awful lot from him.” The messages that poured in were full of gratitude for Cordery’s bravery.
But from his point of view, the veteran didn’t think of himself as exceptionally brave or special. Indeed, when the Good Morning Britain presenters asked Cordery about his preparedness for war, he said he had just followed orders. “When you join the service you become part of them,” the vet explained.
He continued, “You just do as you’re told, it’s just one of those things.” In fact, even after all his contributions to his country, Cordery didn’t think he was a hero. “I was there to do a job,” he said. “And I did the job I was asked to do to the best of my ability. That’s it.”
Cordery pointed out that the real heroes were the people who had lost their lives in the war. He believes that if you want to see true heroism, you need look no further than the Arctic convoys. He served on one himself, and many other crew members lost their lives aboard naval vessels.
“People don’t talk much about the Arctic convoys,” Cordery informed Good Morning Britain, “but there were 3,000 men lost on those.” He said he considers them the heroes, because you can’t do more than die for your country. And each year on the anniversary of D-Day, the Royal British Legion (RBL) shows its gratitude to people like Cordery.
The 75th D-Day anniversary was a collaboration with the U.K. government and tourism organization Arena Travel. In appreciation of all the veterans’ sacrifices, the RBL organized a memorial tour aboard the cruise ship M.V. Boudicca. It took 300 former soldiers to several locations within the U.K. and France to honor their fallen comrades.
The veterans on Boudicca made their first stop at Portsmouth’s Southsea Common in the U.K. The following day, they visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of Bayeux in France. Their final port of call was the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Bayeux War Cemetery in Bayeux, France. The RBL arranged everything for the veterans who attended.
RBL representative Nicola Rowlands revealed to Good Morning Britain that it would take veterans from their houses to pick-up points. Carers and medical professionals were also present to support former soldiers. “We are indebted to people like [Cordery],” Rowland said . “But also, as [Cordery has] spoken about his friends that he’s lost, we’ve also got a responsibility to remember them.”