First came the gunfire then the mass of men and equipment and then the bodies started to float by. Mike Buckingham spoke to Con Harris, the sailor who lived through D-Day.

THE first thing he saw was a flickering on the horizon like a summer storm, but red.

Then came the rumble like rolling thunder which as his ship approached became harsher and more terrifying.

Then came dawn and as light fell upon the scene Con Harris, Leading Signalman in the Royal Navy saw himself to be caught up in the clamour and fury of the greatest seaborne invasion the world has ever seen.

After that came the bodies.

"They were just floating in the sea, bobbing by.

"I've told my wife my wartime stories so often that she knows them better than I do but I still hesitate to talk about them" Mr Harris, now 85 and safely berthed in his home village of Garndiffaith, says.

He was just 17 and working for the local Co-Op in 1940 when the British war effort was at its nadir and it looked as though he might be called up into the Army.

Instead he volunteered for the Navy and was sent first to the Butlin's camp at Skegness which had been requisitioned as HMS Royal Arthur and from there to Ayr in Scotland.

His first experience of overseas service gave a somewhat rosy view of life in the Royal Navy.

"I was sent to New York to pick up a ship.

"We berthed at a pier next to the liner Normandie which was still smoking having been set on fire in what we were told was sabotage.

"We were put up by the US Navy in conditions that were luxurious compared with what we were used to. There were clean bunks and canteens with cooks wearing white caps and looking the part and food - oh, the food!

"Ice cream and steaks and bacon the likes of which we rarely saw.

"We were sent to a rest camp at Poughkeepsie were I remember there were rattlesnake skins pinned on the barrack walls.

"Then we went down to New Jersey to pick up HMS Emphatic which although I did not know it at the time had been built especially for D-Day.

"She was like a corvette but with towing gear behind.

"We picked up metal pontoons and took 27 days towing them across the Atlantic and dumping them off in Falmouth before going on to Portsmouth.

"There we were met by an amazing sight. So many ships were in the Solent that you could have walked across it from the deck of one ship to the other."

What he saw - although he still had little notion of it - was the immense gathering of force on the eve of D-Day set for June 6, 1944.

The strange angular pontoons which Emphatic and her sister ships had towed across the ocean were to play an indispensible part in the drama which lay ahead.

Close by Portsmouth, at Selsey Bill were moored the huge concrete caissons referred to as Mulberry harbours which were to form temporary docking for the thousands of craft landing and supplying the huge Anglo-American and Canadian army.

Dragging her strange cargo out into the mine-swept waters of the English Channel the Emphatic approached the French coast near Arromanches and there the young Con Harris saw a sight which was to remain with his to this day.

"I will never forget it.

"Planes were going over so low that you could see the faces of the men in them. Some of the planes were towing gliders.

"All around us the water was black with ships with the huge capital ships firing at German positions on land and the Germans firing back.

"There was always the danger of German E-boats or fast torpedo boats.

"We took the pontoons to just off Arromanches where smaller ships took over and put them into place so that we could see what they were for.

"The big Mulberry harbour caissons formed the dock together with old merchant ships that had been sunk to make breakwaters and the pontoons were floating roadways between the floating harbours and the shore.

"The bodies floating toward us were picked up and taken to the people actually on the beach whose job it was to deal with them.

"Four times we went back to get more pontoons and each time we returned it seemed to me that the fighting near the beach was less intense as the battle moved inland.

"I was sent ashore with an Aldis lamp to flash signals to the ship regarding supplies and other matters and I saw my first German prisoners of war who I was surprised to see had Asiatic faces.

"I was later told that they had been captured on the Russian front and forced to fight for the Germans."

With the beachheads and the invasion force driving towards Germany, HMS Emphatic and Con along with two other vessels of the same class were sent to join the British fleet based at Trincomalee in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

"We left Aden and were two days out of Trinco as we called it when HMS Chameleon I think it was signalled us - 'Splice the mainbrace - the war in Europe is over'.

"We got to Rangoon to find that the Japs had left it in a terrible state wrecking the water supplies and everything else before they left.

"British soldiers and others were trying to put things right and I met some prisoners-of-war, one of them a Welsh-speaking lad from Pontypridd.

"The former prisoners of the Japanese were terribly emaciated. We wanted to feed them but weren't allowed to because they needed specialist attention.

"One of them told us that cats and snakes would sometimes come into their camp adding 'but they never got out again'.

"I had been ashore and was returning to the ship when I saw an impromptu fireworks display of Very lights being fired off.

"The war against Japan was over.

"We continued patrolling until the formal surrender was signed and then I was sent home for demobilisation."

In the years after the war the former Co-Op boy got a job at the Girlings factory and met Kath Ashman at a dance.

The couple were married in 1950 and had a daughter and son, and later, two grandchildren.

One of Con's treasured possessions is his 'tiddly suit' - naval slang for best uniform - which he had during the war and his war medals.

But above everything else are his memories of one of the most momentous days in the entire history of warfare.

"Anybody who has ever been in the last war would do almost anything to prevent another war" he says.

"I still don't know how to describe my feelings on that day. Excited, possibly, or apprehensive.

"Actually, I think just plain frightened might cover it."