1st June 2014
This week marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allies landed on the Normandy beaches and began to liberate France and Europe from occupation and end Hitler's Nazi regime in Germany. Here is details of what various people were doing on that momentous day, from the well known to ordinary citizens caught up in the World War.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
On the eve of D-Day at 9.45pm, General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces, after receiving a cautious but promising weather report from the meteorologist gave the final order for D-Day to go ahead. On D-Day a speech he made was played on radio. He became President of the United States in 1952.
Unknown Warrior - Alec Alexander
Alec was aboard HMS Belfast off the shore off Sword Beach. He had been on the ship when it sunk the Scharnhorst in the Arctic Ocean on the 26th December 1943. He had also been severely injured when a large piece of metal hit him in a storm. He broke his jaw and other bones, and was temporarily blind for a few weeks. He had been taken to an American military hospital in Iceland. Alec watched as the landing crafts arrived at the beach, as his ship pounded it's guns, in an attempt to give them cover, and disrupt German defences.
Unknown Warrior- Bill Evans
Bill Evans, landed on Gold Beach with the South Wales Borderers, after jumping into the sea from his landing craft with a bicycle on his shoulders.
Stan Hollis V.C
Company Sergeant Major Stan Hollis serving in the Green Howards, was the sole recipient of the Victoria Cross for gallantry on D-Day. His citation read;
"In Normandy on 6 June 1944 Company Sergeant-Major Hollis went with his company commander to investigate two German pill-boxes which had been by-passed as the company moved inland from the beaches. "Hollis instantly rushed straight at the pillbox, firing his Sten gun into the first pill-box, He jumped on top of the pillbox, re-charged his magazine, threw a grenade in through the door and fired his Sten gun into it, killing two Germans and taking the remainder prisoners.
Later the same day... C.S.M. Hollis pushed right forward to engage the [field] gun with a PIAT [anti-tank weapon] from a house at 50 yards range... He later found that two of his men had stayed behind in the house...In full view of, the enemy who were continually firing at him, he went forward alone...distract their attention from the other men. Under cover of his diversion, the two men were able to get back.
Wherever the fighting was heaviest...[he]...appeared, displaying the utmost gallantry... It was largely through his heroism and resource that the Company's objectives were gained and casualties were not heavier. ....he saved the lives of many of his men."
He survived the war and died in 1972 in Middlesborough, aged 59.
HM The Queen
On the 19th May 1944, the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, visited the Parachute Regiment with her mother. Hundreds of parachutists were in attendance and they were shown the Horsa landing gliders, and kit that the paratroopers would be taking with them. Undoubtedly some of the men who she visited that day would never have came back and are buried in Arnhem Oosterbeek war Cemetery. Pictures HERE
Anne was in the hidden attic with her family and heard news that D-Day had begun on their secret radio. The BBC announced "THIS IS D-DAY". Jubilant Anne wrote in her diary, "This is the day!" Freedom must have seemed a real prospect, just a matter of time. Unfortunately her luck ran out, just 2 months later, when they were betrayed and the attic was raided on the 4th August 1944. Anne and her sister died at Bergen-Belsen camp in March 1945.
King George VI & Winston Churchill
Both men were extremely keen to go with the invading forces, and had planned to view the landings from HMS Belfast. However, this was deemed far too dangerous, and that they would both be needed at home in case the landings went badly wrong. Reluctantly both eventually were persuaded not to go by military leaders such as Admiral Bertram Ramsey, Naval Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force for the invasion. He was killed in an air crash just 6 months later, on the outskirts of Paris.
Prime Minister Churchill went over to France just 6 days after the landings and the King visited 4 days after Churchill's trip. Both disembarked at an estuary on Juno Beach. On D-Day they both gave speeches to mark the historic day. The King made his at 9pm.
Corrie Ten Boom
Corrie was the first woman to qualify as a watch maker in Holland and worked alongside her father at the family watch shop in Haarlem. She had never married and was aged 48 at the outbreak of the war and lived with her father and sister in the apartment above the shop. They were devout Christians. A series of events took place which led Corrie to be transformed from an ordinary citizen in peacetime to part of an underground operation carrying out extremely risky work, that had managed to gain 100 ration cards for Jews in hiding and their home had became a place of refuge for Jews and resistance fighters, with a specially constructed 'hiding place'.
On the 28th February 1944 the Gestapo raided the house and the whole family were arrested. Her father, Casper Ten Boom, died in prison 10 days later. On 6th June, D-Day, the situation worsened for the Ten Boom sisters. They were transfered to Vught concentration camp run by the SS in Holland, which held thousands of people. As the Allies advanced they were then sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany. Corrie smuggled in a small bible and relied on her Christian faith to help her endure the terrible cruelty and worsening conditions. Her sister Betsy died in December 1944, Corrie found her in amongst a heap of bodies. She survived the camp and spent the following decades travelling the world, preaching the power of forgiveness.
Actor Alec Guiness, who won an Oscar for 'best actor' after playing Col. Nicholson in Bridge of the River Kwai and played Obi Wan Kanobi in Star Wars, was in the Royal Naval Reserve during the war and transported troops on a landing craft onto the D-Day Normandy beaches.
Best known for playing 'Scotty' chief engineer on the U.S.S Enterprise in Star Trek, James Doohan landed on Juno Beach as a Canadian officer. He was one of the first to arrive and helped kill two snipers. That evening he was hit six times by machine gun bullets. One severed his finger and another hit his chest, hitting a cigarette case he had in his chest pocket.
RAF nurses, Iris Bower, along with Mollie Giles were the first women to land on the invasion beaches. Their squadron commander was killed during the landings, and after landing on Juno Beach they both began tending the wounded and dying. Iris, aged 29, was a war widow after her husband, Flight Lieutenant Donald Ogilvie DFC, was killed over Holland in 1943. Two hospitals she had worked at had been bombed, the first near Barry where she was Duty Sister during the raid, and received a Royal Red Cross (2nd Class) from the King for her bravery helping people in the dark amogst burst water pipes and another the RAF Officer's Hospital in Torquay where 65 patients and staff were killed. She helped hundreds of injured soldiers in Normandy and was with many during their final moments alive. She attended the 50th and 60th D-Day commemoration events and died aged 90 in 2006. Listen to Iris Bowers HERE
Author of 'Catcher in the Rye', he was part of the 6th June Utah beach invasion force. He continued fighting through the Battle of Bulge and was one of the first Americans to arrive at Dachau Concentration Camp.
Famous American journalist Ed Murrow had kept America had reported from Britian since 1940 and and had sent reports of the Blitz spirit in London. At 3.33 AM Eastern Time he broadcast live to America from London that D-Day had begun. Later that day he gave an optimistic update to anxious American listeners. Listen HERE
As a CBS Journalist, Charles Collingwood landed on Utah beach amidst heavy fighting on the 6th June after the first wave of attack. His report from the beach was recorded and aired two days later. Listen HERE After the war he was part of the news team that reported that JFK had been assasinated.
Richard C. Hottelet
Richard C. Hottelet was aboard a B26 Marauder over the Normandy coast and witnessed the invasion fleet and beaches from the air. The plane bombed some fortifications and was over enemy territory for 30 minutes. A journalist for CBS, he returned to London and recorded what he had witnessed on the dangerous journey. Listen HERE
Before America joined the war, Richard C Hottelet was based in Berlin reporting on events. In 1941 his apartment was raided by the Gestapo. He was arrested, accused of espoionage, and spent 4 months in German prisons before being released. Born in 1917, he will be 96 for the 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration events.
Australian journalist, Charles Wilmot, was working for the BBC and ABC. At half light on the 6th June he was aboard a Glider plane with Airborne troops heading for Occupied Europe. Listen to his report recorded on the glider HERE
In a cruel twist of fate, Chester, who survived the world's greatest ever Airborne invasion, was killed in 1954, aged 42, when a civilian passenger plane he was aboard exploded over the Mediterranean.
Fellow BBC war correspondent, Guy Byam actually did a parachute jump into mainland Europe along with the Parachute Regiment. He describes the jump HERE.
He was killed 8 months later, when the American bomber he was reporting from was shot down.
Although Saving Private Ryan was fiction, there was a young soldier, Frederick Niland, whose real experiences were similar to the film. Eldest brother, Edward, was reported missing in action, believed killed 3 weeks before D-Day, after his B52 crashed somewhere in Burma. On the 6th June, Frederick Niland part of 101st Airborne's 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment parachuted into Normandy. His brother Robert was killed on D-Day at Neuville-au-Plain and his other brother Preston was killed on June 7th in the vicinity of Utah Beach.
Unlike the film a search party to bring the last brother home to safety was not required, as the Chaplain of the 101st was informed and arranged for him to leave France. Thankfully, Edward had not been killed after all. He survived the crash and was taken POW by the Japanese. He survived the war. The two other brothers are buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
Hitler was literally 'caught knapping'. During the decisive morning of D-Day, Hitler was said to be fast asleep at his "Eagle's Nest" in Berchtesgaden. He was convinced that the main attack would be at Calais, with the invasion fleet sailing from Dover, a much shorter distance than sailing from Portsmouth to Normandy. This meant many of the German forces were not in an ideal position to repel the invasion when it arrived.
Major Richard Winters
Richard Winters became well known in his old age, along with other men he had served alongside, after the HBO series, Band of Brothers was made. The TV drama was based on 'Easy Company' experiences in Normandy. He parachuted into Normandy on the 6th June 1944, landing at Sainte-Mère-Église. He dropped his weapon during the descent! Here some of his men talk about his leadership qualities. HERE
Field Marshal Montgomery
Montgomery commanded the 21st Army Group which consisted of all Allied ground forces that took part in Operation Overlord. He had outlined his plans at St Pauls School on the 7th April and the 15th May. On D-Day he was aboard HMS Apollo off the Normandy coast. pic HERE On the eve of D-Day he recorded the following message. HERE
Bernard Montgomery died in 1976 and rests in peace at Holy Cross churchyard, Binsted, Hampshire.
At Broacasting House in London, John Snagge of the BBC Home Service broke the news, via radio, to the British people that D-Day had begun. Listen HERE
In 1954 he became the first person to do a BBC Television news broadcast.
Charles de Gaulle
Leader of the Free French Forces, Charles De Gaulle arrived in London on the 4th June 1944 and stayed aty the Connaught Hotel and made a speech to the French people on D-day. He arrived in Normandy on the 12th June. By August Paris had been liberated, and huge crowds were on the streets to welcome General De Gaulle, pockets of remaining German snipers opened fire in an attempt to kill him. Watch HERE
The President of the USA waited for news in the White House in Washington D.C. Later in the day he informed the American people and read out a pray he had wrote.
Rommel best known for his leadership of the Afrika Korps in the desert, was in charge of defending Northern France from invasion. Due to less ability in meteorology, the Germans had not expected a break in the bad weather, as a result on the morning of D-Day Rommel was on holiday in Germany to visit his wife, whose Birthday it was. He did not arrive back in Normandy until the early evening of the 6th June. The film, the Longest Day, about the landings is taken from a quote by Rommel, who said, "the first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive...the fate of Germany depends on the outcome...for the Allies, as well as Germany, it will be the longest day."
Major Renton Galloway M.C
A few days ago, I was visiting the Fallen Heroes of Normandy Website, and was looking at all the faces of soldiers that had been killed. A strange coincidence occured when I clicked on a random selected face to find out more. Of all the places in the UK, the soldier was from exactly the same place as I was born in Newcastle and where I live, Jesmond. Major Renton Galloway landed on Gold Beach at about 11.00 am with the Durham Light Infantry. He was injured in the arm a few days later (14th) and was photographed sitting at the back of a field ambulance with his arm in a sling, smoking a cigarette, looking dishevelled, tired and dirty, but with a big smile on his face. The photo captures the fighting, never give up, spirit.
He returned to action on the 2nd August 1944 where he took over command of `A` Company He was killed near Le Plessis Grimault, aged 32, on the 12th August 1944, when a shell exploded next to where he was standing. How sad that he never came home to Newcastle. View the picture, click and scroll down the page HERE
Unknown Warrior - Alan Robbins
Alan Robbins, of the North Irish Horse Tank Regiment, had been taken prisoner of war when his tank was captured in the North African desert. Like thousands of others he had been sent to POW camps in Europe, some had been in the POW camps since 1940, after they had been taken prisoner in France during the retreat to Dunkirk. Then there was airmen who had survived being shot down over occupied Europe. On D-Day he was breaking rocks at an SS run hard labour camp after being accused of stealing 24 bottles of British whisky at a food depot at Opplin. Always looking for a way to get out of working for the Germans, one day when they blew up the rock face, he put some soap in his mouth until it was foaming, let out a scream and fell to the ground, pretending he had shell shock. He was taken to hospital, where the doctors said he was timewasting. Shortly after D-Day he was escorted back to the camp by a prison guard. He noticed the guard had a newspaper, and the headlines were that an invasion of Europe by the Allies had failed.
He didn't beleive it, but knew something was happening. He offered 3 cigarettes from his ration pack to the guard, who excepted the bribe and gave him the paper. He smuggled it into the camp. His comrades were all excited and hoped they would be home by Christmas. Unfortunately, it was not to be so easy. As the Allies advanced eastwards, and the Soviets westwards, Alan along with thousands of other prisoners began a march that lasted months and covered hundreds of miles in freezing conditions with little food. Many fell to the ground and never came home. Alan survived what became known as the 'death march' and was liberated along with the whole of Europe in 1945.
D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, website HERE