THE tide's out now. On an early June day, the beach is long and wide and empty and silent – apart from the whistle of the wind in the ears.

The sea is quiet. Lugworm collectors are silhouetted against its breakers which are too lazy to break properly – they surge gently in and then they retreat.

A little boat eases to the shore. One fisherman slowly lowers himself into the knee-deep water, plodges through the shallows and takes so much time walking the 100 or so metres up the beach to fetch the tractor that his mate in the boat shouts a hurry-up, his voice blowing across the open sands.

The fisherman takes no notice, plodding deliberately towards the beach-head where the broken slats of the old wooden breakwaters jut out of the sand like ugly, decaying teeth.

It was on this spot on Gold Beach on an early June day in 1944 that Company Sergeant Major Stanley Elton Hollis of the 6th Battalion of the Green Howards landed. It wasn't empty and silent then; it was full of thousands of soldiers and the full-throated noise of battle. It was D-Day, and CSM Hollis, full of urgency and heroism, took the same route off the beach as the languid fisherman, and became the only one of the 156,000 troops who landed on that "longest day" to win the Victoria Cross – his medal is now in pride of place in the regimental museum in Richmond Market Place.

He was born in Loftus on the east Cleveland coast in 1912. His father was a fishmonger. In 1926 the family moved to Robin Hood's Bay where young Stan worked in his father's fish shop. When he was 17, he set out on his own, learning to be a navigation officer for a Whitby shipping company. He made regular voyages to west Africa where, in 1930, he caught blackwater fever, which put an end to his seafaring days.

Or so he thought.

His parents now owned a fish shop in North Ormesby, Middlesbrough, and so he put down roots there, becoming a lorry driver, marrying Alice Clixby and having two children.

All very ordinary, until in 1939 he joined the Green Howards, first as a reservist but when war broke he was mobilised. His 6th Battalion was recruited almost entirely from Teesside, and it travelled to France with the British Expeditionary Force, only to be evacuated at Dunkirk.

It was part of 50th Division which was made up of men from the North-East. They wore on their arm a bright red flash of TT for Tyne Tees and Hollis was with them as they fought through Iraq, Palestine and Cyprus. He was there at El Alamein and, promoted to Company Sergeant-Major, took part in the invasion of Sicily in 1943.

Early morning, June 6, 1944, he was in a landing craft off the fisherman's empty beach. To the Green Howards it was known as King Beach, a section of Gold Beach, and it was full of wooden defences designed to prevent ships from landing. With condoms on the end of their rifles to keep out the water, his company, D Company, landed in deep water at 7.37am.

“Everything in the world opened up from behind us," he wrote in his brief memoirs. “There were 25-pounders firing off floating platforms, floating platforms firing thousands of rockets in one salvo, cruisers, destroyers, battleships, everything opened up on the shore…”

German aircraft overhead; a tank blew up in front of him, and he spotted three birds sitting coolly on a coil of barbed wire. A soldier next to him made a joke about the sky being too full for them to fly. Seconds later, that soldier was blown to bits – but Hollis noticed how the birds remained on their perch.

The Green Howards sped across the sand, quickly overran a gun battery at the beach-head, and were among the first troops to leave the beaches.

Today, a straight sandy lane leads away from the beach through boggy willow thickets which conceal nothing more dangerous than a cuckoo. The fisherman's old red tractor, at last towing the boat, struggles up the steep rise, known as Mont Fleury, its tyres kicking up a sandstorm. At the top it turns right into a modern estate of musically-named streets of holiday homes and retirement cottages which have wonderful sea views. In Hollis' day, there was only one house there. From his training, he knew it had a distinctive, circular drive, and that behind it was the fiercesome Mont Fleury battery – and he would have known that what in peacetime are wonderful sea views in wartime are superb defensive positions.

As they climbed the hill, Hollis became concerned about a shack to the right of the house with the circular drive. One of his men dismissed it as "only a bloody bus shelter", but Hollis approached with caution. He was right. When he was 20 yards from it, a machine-gun was pushed through a slit and it opened up with a point blank deadly hail of bullets.

Instead of throwing himself to the floor, Hollis instantly rushed at the box, hosepiping it with bullets and recharging his magazine as he ran. Miraculously, he reached it. He jammed his rifle through the slit and fired inside. Then he jumped on top and lobbed in a grenade. He stood back, two, three, and when it exploded, he burst through the door...

Two Germans lay dead. Another five were either wounded or dazed and gave themselves up. Hollis had saved his Company from inevitable slaughter as the Germans would have waited until they had passed and then turned on them from the rear.

Hollis then followed the trench. Nowadays, it would cut through the housing estate – the "bus shelter" was roughly where Rue Claude Debussey joins Rue Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The retirement homes with trim gardens in Rue JS Bach and Rue Chopin are defended by dogs whose snarling snouts press beneath the gates, but at the top of the trench, Hollis came to a second pill-box, defended by 20 or more Germans.

But faced by a single armed Middlesbrough man, they gave themselves up. Hollis' prisoner count was growing...

To rejoin his company, he took a farm track passed the hulking ruin of the Mont Fleury gun battery. Even today, the mortar marks and shell holes in its 5ft thick concrete show how it had been successfully targeted before he had arrived. Now the track has been renamed Allée Claude Debussy, the main part of the battery provides shelter for three horses and the old red tractor that the fisherman has driven off the beach, and further along, another concrete gun emplacement has been converted into a gite.

Hollis and his men reached here a little after 8am on D-Day was far from over. The gite today has an outside staircase to allow residents to climb on top and drink in the views over the beach.

The Green Howards had no time for such fancies, and cracked on across the field to the small village of Crepon, with its solid stone church and a memorial which features a likeness of Hollis on top.

Inside a farmhouse on the edge of the village, Hollis found a very scared ten-year-old boy; outside, in an orchard he noticed a couple of dogs happily waving their tails at the hedge.

A bullet whistled into the masonry above his head and he realised that hidden in the hedge beside the dogs was a German field gun.

Taking two men and a Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank gun (known as a "piat") with him, he crawled through a rhubarb patch towards the German weapon. He fired, but his shell fell short, betraying his position. The Germans slowly cranked their weapon around until Hollis was looking straight down its barrel.

The shell roared over his head and into the farmhouse wall behind. Hollis ordered his men to retreat and then made his way through the rhubarb. Only when he reached the safety of the wall, he realised that the two had failed to budge and were coming under increasingly heavy fire.

He could have left them but as he had led them in, he felt he had to get them out. So to draw the Germans' fire, Hollis charged into the orchard, shooting from the hip and shouting wildly, giving the men time to escape. Somehow, with deadly fire dancing all around, he too made it to safety.

It was 11am, and the Sergeant Major had completed his second life-saving miracle of the day.

In the next few days, the Green Howards pushed on inland towards Creully and beyond, and word filtered back of Hollis's actions to headquarters so that on August 17, 1944, the London Gazette announced that he was to be the only soldier to be awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions on D-Day.

The citation read: "Wherever the fighting was heaviest, CSM Hollis appeared and, in the course of a magnificent day's work, he displayed the utmost gallantry and on two separate occasions his courage and initiative prevented the enemy from holding up the advance at critical stages.

"It was largely through his heroism and resource that the Company's objectives were gained and casualties were not heavier, and by his own bravery he saved the lives of many of his men."

His war ended a month later when he was wounded in the leg.

He returned to Middlesbrough to work as a sandblaster in a steelworks before becoming a partner in Horobin's motor repair business in Darlington. He then spent four years sailing in the Far East as a Third Engineer, before becoming a pub manager with Vaux. He ran the Green Howard in North Ormesby from 1955 to 1970 and, after its demolition, the Holywell View in Liverton Mines near Loftus.

He died in 1972, aged 59, and was buried in Acklam Cemetery. Ten years later his medals were auctioned for £32,000 and in 1997 they were presented to the Green Howards Museum in Richmond. In 2014, a statue of him in full battle cry was erected outside the Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough.

Next week, those quiet beaches of Normandy will once again be invaded – by presidents and prime ministers marking the 80th anniversary of one man's date with destiny.