THE 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry made it off Gold Beach on D-Day, having jettisoned the bikes they were supposed to be pedalling into the French countryside.

The soldiers spent a nervy night in a trench with bombs and enemy all around. Our D-Day diarist, Sgt Charles Eagles follows on from Thursday’s paper with his third instalment…

Part 3: Deadly booby traps

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 around every corner.

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.

Sgt Eagles, who ran a well-known photographic business in Sunderland and Durham, died earlier this year at the age of 94. He wrote his diary in time for the 60th anniversary of D-Day when he returned to the beaches for the first time since 1944. There will be another instalment next week, as the Durhams face the deadliest day of their D-Day campaign.