5. – The fifth in a series about NI people on D Day. William James “Billy” Moore served with 2nd Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles, landing on Sword Beach on 6th June 1944 after enlisting at the age of 18.
In June 1942, aged 18, Billy Moore joined the Young Soldiers’ 70th Battalion of The Royal Ulster Rifles. They trained in Essex before disbanding and splitting between the London Irish Regiment and Royal Ulster Rifles training.
Billy was among the group sent to Hoik, Scotland. There, they made their way to Inverairy on the coast where they carried out beach landing exercises. He was twenty years old.
Next stop for the young infantryman was Dartmount, England and onto Droxford near Southampton. There, they camped in tents for around three weeks awaiting the invasion. Security was tight and they were not allowed to leave the camp.
Visitors to Droxford included Princess Elizabeth and General Montgomery. With plans in place, it was then on to Portsmouth to make final preparations for Normandy.
Up until Portsmouth, the men got leave every nine weeks. Sometimes a week or two weeks, the boys would return to Northern Ireland.
In 2nd Battalion, A Company, 9th Platoon, a trio of Ulstermen –Burrows, Bart, and Crangle – were known as “The BBC”.
Royal Ulster Rifles on D-Day
After three weeks waiting in Portsmouth, The Rifles made two unsuccessful attempts to land on the French coast. The seas were too rough on the first passes. Finally, on 6th June 1944, William James Moore and the Royal Ulster Rifles set foot on Sword Beach.
In 2006, he recalled, “Landed half a mile from Sword Beach. We had no idea what it was going to be like. We were met with tanks and machine gun fire; they hit us with everything. We didn’t think there would be so much against us. I saw lads younger than me laying dead in the field with their kit around them. You would have thought they were sleeping.”
Many of his comrades didn’t make it ashore. Moore remembered the sea being rough. Men weighed down by packs, ammunition and useless fold-up bicycles, drowned long before they neared land.
Billy’s battalion lost more than 180 men before they reached Cambes Wood, caught in crossfire and stifled by Panzers.
From Cambes to Belgium
Moore survived a bomb attack in Cambes Wood. Crangle, a friend from Belfast mentioned earlier died while caught in a blast as he chatted near the top of a trench. Undeterred by the amount of tragic loss, The Rifles would be one of the first battalions to reach Caen (Code-named Belfast in the regiment’s orders) three weeks later.
In 2009, Billy Moore recalled, “I buried my mate at Cambes Wood. We were having a wee smoke and a wee pow-wow on the edge of the trench when we heard a shell coming over and jumped. He wasn’t quick enough and got it in the back. A lot of good mates were killed at Cambes Wood”.
The Rifles waited on a hillside outside Caen with a Canadian battalion watching as hundreds of bombers attacked the old town. The following day, they entered the fray, fighting through the streets.
Billy said, “We travelled for another 250 miles to the River Seine and we had to create a bridge for the people coming after us. We were leading the way”.
The Rifles came under fire from German tanks as they began a trek of almost 300 miles into Belgium. They fed, slept and sheltered in what vehicles were left undamaged.
Moore remembered in Regimental Journal
While serving in Normandy, Billy’s actions saw him remembered in the regimental journal by Lieutenant Cyril Rand. Before heading out on patrol, Moore produced a testament which all men had been given before the landings. He read extracts from it to the men and Rand noted:
“At first, the episode struck me as rather incongruous: these soldiers, some of whom had a reputation for hard drinking and pay day brawling, who had probably only seen the inside of a church on church parades, had obviously been quite moved. I also said thank you to Rifleman Moore and, like the members of my patrol, I meant it”.
As the fighting increased throughout Belgium, Moore received an injury that saw him sent to the field hospital.
From there, the army flew him to Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Edgbaston, Birmingham. He remained there for seven months before returning to Northern Ireland. He would not return to the front line. At home, he received further treatment at Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn. For a time, Moore still wore a caliper on the injured leg.
Billy Moore lived in Lisburn after the war and in 2006, performed the official opening of a new lounge for the Royal British Legion. He was often quoted in local media with his memories from D-Day and the Normandy campaign.
Remembering Rifleman Billy Moore
Rifleman Moore passed away on the 65th anniversary of theD Day Landings. He died peacefully on 6th June 2009. Billy was survived by wife Edna, son Billy, daughter-in-law Lynda, grand-daughter Suzanne and her husband Reuben.
His funeral took place on Tuesday 9th June 2009 with a service in Lisburn Cathedral. Reverend Canon Sam Wright assisted by Reverend Canon Alex Cheevers conducted the service.
A lone regimental piper played as four members of the Royal Ulster Rifles Old Comrades Association (Lisburn Branch) carried the coffin. Rifleman Moore was buried with some military ceremony, his coffin draped in the Queen’s colours and the Ulster Rifles standard. Retired Major John Jamieson gave the oration before Rifleman William James Moore was laid to rest in Blaris New Cemetery.