WHAT was it like to be there 75 years ago on D-Day as the course of the Second World War was changed and the liberation of a continent began, as 150,000 men spewed out of 5,300 boats onto the beaches of Normandy in the greatest amphibious invasion the world has ever seen?

Sgt Charles Eagles was among the men of the 9th Durham Light Infantry who landed on the morning of June 6, 1944, on Gold Beach and he recorded his part in Operation Overlord in a diary which he wrote for his family in 2004 for the 60th anniversary.

This means that although he died earlier this year, aged 94, his extraordinary story can still be told in his own words – including how on D-Day he was expected to pedal off the beach and through the barbed wire on a foldable bicycle.

As the first instalment of the diary, published in The Northern Echo on Saturday, told, Sgt Eagles was originally from Staffordshire, but when Newcastle-under-Lyme was confused with Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he ended up in the DLI.

As future instalments will show, he was badly injured six weeks after D-Day, but during his recuperation in Durham, he met Irene, from Meadowfield, who became his first wife when he settled in the area. He had two children, Brian and Sandra, and set up a well-known photography business with branches in Sunderland and Durham. When Irene died in 1982 knowing only the sketchiest details of his wartime experience, his second wife Lyn encouraged him to put pen to paper.

This, then, is the second part of his story, telling of how it was on those beaches 75 years ago today.

Part 2: D-Day

IT would have been about 9am or 9.30am, but time didn't matter any more. It was D-Day.

Overhead, we could hear the drone of the heavy bombers. From beside us came the rumble of heavy gunfire from the battleships and cruisers.

In the hold of the American ship, I was feeling very queasy. Sweat was standing on my forehead and I thought I was going to be sick. My nausea was caused by the rough swell of the sea mixed with the terrible smell of the hundreds of bodies - members, like me, of the 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry - that had been crammed in the airless hold for days.

The temperature had been rising constantly, and now I was so tempted to rip off my oilskin and my waders because the heat was unbearable.

And my nausea was caused by the apprehension of what was to come.

But then the magic words were roared at us: "Move it, men."

I can still remember the smell of the fresh air as we hit the open deck - it was wonderful!

My queasiness left me and I felt tip-top. I wasn't scared, just excited. The lads were in great form, drinking in the cool fresh air and joking as only Geordies can. The NCOs bellowed, but it didn't matter. We moved like a well-oiled machine as we had practised everything so often.

The skies that morning were misty and the seas were full of thousands of boats of all descriptions.

From that distance, we could see the shore and a few puffs of smoke, which were followed a few seconds later by a heavy shudder.

As we drew closer to the beaches, all hell let loose.

The noise was deafening as the shells from the battleships pounded enemy positions a couple of miles inland.

When we were a couple of hundred yards from shore, we scrambled over the side of our ship, down ropeladders, ran over another ship and were packed, shoulder-to-shoulder like sardines, into an LCI (Landing Craft for Infantry).

Lt Jack Williams, a miner from Brandon who was our company commander, gave me a grin as big as a Cheshire cat. "This is it, laddie, " he said.

I could see wrecked vehicles littering the shallow waters and the beach. To the left, tanks, complete with flails, were clearing a path through the mines. Odd puffs of mortars erupted in the sand. Groups of men made their way, snakelike, off the beach. It seemed surprisingly organised. And the noise was horrendous.

I came to with a jerk as the LCI grounded. The magic words again: "Move it, men."

We surged forward and out of the corner of my eye I saw one of our leading lads disappear from view.

Then I stepped out, and I dropped under the cold water. My hand slipped down to my belt automatically and my backpack was away. I felt a strong grip on my tunic as I found my feet on Gold Beach, and Lt Williams hauled me up with a big grin: "Take it easy, laddie."

We scrambled ashore, scrabbling out of our horrible waders, only to be told to grab a folding Paratroop bike. We formed up in our various sections and drifted off the beach, pushing our bikes through the barbed wire on to a small track and eventually into a narrow countryside road.

What a comical sight for any German observer we must have been – like Fred Carney's army!

The order to mount bikes was given, and we wobbled all over the place, packs and rifles rolling drunkenly around our backs as we tried to pedal for the first time since childhood.

It was a truly hysterical sight, these wobbly invaders claiming their first couple of hundred yards of enemy territory.

But then a shell dropped somewhere among us. We were showered with debris and dived into ditches.

It brought us back with a crack, and that was how our D-Day went; slow progress across difficult terrain, and every time we relaxed, a loud crack of sudden sniper fire woke us up.

Occasional tanks passed through us going forward; a few German prisoners walked the other way, hands above their heads or clasped behind their necks, going backwards.

But we moved forward on foot – our silly, wobbly bikes were quite literally ditched in that ditch by the side of the road.

That night we spent in our slit trench. Every time I nodded off, I was quickly brought to by the stuttering of Sten guns and shouting, be it English or German, which was too close for comfort.

D-Day+1 broke with Typhoons – US planes – overhead, dropping bombs on the enemy in the next field 100 yards away. There were snipers everywhere, picking us off, slowing us down, and there were mines and booby traps everywhere.

I was in S Company, and clearing mines was my expertise – I had gone on an explosives course and was paid 6d a day extra for the privilege! The first one I deloused was on the day after D-Day, somewhere on a side road not far from Bayeux. It was a Teller mine, big and nasty.

I remember prodding around it, feeling underneath it, with sweat running down my forehead and burning into my eyes. My voice trembled as I shouted to the lads closest to me: "Move back and lie down."

I removed the detonator and lifted the mine clear. Job done. My legs were jelly – it hadn't been anything like that difficult in training.

I did another three that day, two were armed and one was not, and the days after were very demanding. It's funny, it doesn't matter how many mines you lift, it doesn't get any easier. But you do get wilier and more experienced. You only make one mistake, and that is your last.

A few days after my first Teller, Lieutenant Jack Williams, the commander of S Company, sent me and six men to clear a large farmhouse that some officer wanted for his headquarters.

I had somehow, aged nineteen-and-a-half, become a sergeant. I was in charge. I carefully explored the hallway of the house and found a couple of small charges, one of the which was coupled to three or four others. I realised then that this was going to be a tricky job.

I left a private to stand watch over them, and went into the large kitchen. A corporal grinned at me.

"What do you think of this, Sarge?" he asked. He had about half-a-dozen anti-personnel mines in the middle of the floor.

Then I got a call from another room. Woodie – Corporal Wood whose first name I never knew – had also piled up some mines in the middle of the floor.

I was now extremely worried. "Outside everybody, " I shouted. "We need to talk this one over."

I collected them together in the farmyard, and as the lads lit up their cigarettes a dull thud came from within the building. Woodie and I rushed inside and found the corporal lying against the wall, disembowelled. We dragged him outside, by which time he was as black as coal.

I was shaking all over. I went back into the hallway, coupled a detonator with a short lead, yelled at the lads to get down, jumped into a ditch beside them, and waited for what seemed like an eternity.

Wallop! What an implosion!

When the dust cleared, there were just four walls of this substantial farmhouse left standing. We lay there, five grey faces just staring at each other, the dead corporal in front of us. No one laughed.

Lt Williams appeared.

"What the bloody hell's happened here?" he screamed.

I pointed to the twisted body at my feet, and tears ran down my cheeks.

The most difficult part of this sorry experience was going over the body to recover the dead soldier's papers and identification so they could be sent home to his parents. As I did it, I couldn't help thinking about how they would feel when they received this awful last package from the front.

The next instalment of Sgt Eagles' D-Day diary will be in The Northern Echo on Saturday in the Memories section