78 years on: ‘On This Day’
A collection of Stories of Sacrifice
6 June 1944 marked the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe and the restoration of peace and freedom. To mark the 78th anniversary of the D-Day landings, between 6 June and 31 August the Trust will showcase some of the many Stories sent in about those commemorated on the British Normandy Memorial. Each reflects a different aspect of the war and the impact it had on families back home.
‘On this day’ stories will be added to this page as we continue to recount the events of the Battle of Normandy, as they happened 78 years ago.
13th/18th Royal Hussars support commandos of No. 4 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade, on the Rue de Riva-Bella, Ouistreham, 6 June 1944 © IWM MH
William Marfleet – died 6 June 1944
Just after midnight on 6 June 1944, before the main body of troops landed on the Normandy beaches, the first men of the invasion force landed behind the German lines in Normandy, either by parachute or by Horsa glider as part of Operation Tonga. Their tasks: to secure two strategic bridges over the River Orne and Caen Canal and destroy others to stop or delay German reinforcements getting to the landing beaches; to capture Merville Battery which had been identified as threat to the British troops landing on Sword Beach; and to protect the flank of the invasion beaches until they linked up with the forces landing on the beaches. This Story features one of the many glider pilots taking part in the Normandy battle.
Allister Austin – died 6 June 1944
The most well known role the Royal Navy had on D-Day was to transport and land the troops on the beaches. But a small, specialist group of Royal Navy divers had an equally vital role, that of clearing mines and obstacles which had been laid by the Germans to hinder any landings on the beaches. The task was shared with men of the Royal Engineers. The Royal Engineers would clear those above low-water level whilst the divers would clear those laid below the water. Here is the Story of one of those divers.
William Moss – died 6 June 1944
Tens of thousands landed on the beaches but not everyone made it that far. William Moss’ part in the battle would end before he had even landed on the beaches.
Emile Bouétard – died 6 June 1944
When you think of 6 June 1944, the landings on the Normandy beaches are usually what first come to mind. But the Battle wasn’t just taking place there. The Allies knew they had to to delay German reinforcements being re-deployed to the Normandy beachhead by all means possible. This Story looks at one element of those delaying tactics carried out by men of the Special Forces who were dropped far behind the German lines.
Carl van Horn – died 7 June 1944
D-Day was just the beginning of the campaign. There was still a long road ahead to liberate Western Europe and between the 6 and 15 June the German forces fought back fiercely to try and throw the Allies back into the sea. The RAF played an important role in ensuring they maintained their foothold. Its crews reflected the multi-national effort and co-operation involved in the campaign. The Story of the American Joseph van Horn and his crew of British, New Zealanders, Australians in Lancaster ND467 illustrates this.
Harry Robertson – died 11 June 1944
A photo can speak a thousand words. Even if you don’t have a family connection, to be able to put a face to a name of a person named on the British Normandy Memorial makes an instant connection to them. Researchers interested in particular units have been able to find photos of men who commemorated on the British Normandy Memorial and have shared them with us as seen in this Story of Harry Robertson. His Story also shows how men of the Royal Navy didn’t just fight at sea. The Royal Marines, the Royal Navy’s amphibious infantry arm, landed on D-Day and fought alongside the Army to help liberate Europe.
Alfred Rolfe – died 14 June 1944
Not all the Stories we have been sent have come from the families of men commemorated on the memorial. Alfred Rolfe is one of a number of Normandy casualties buried in the UK. His name was spotted on his family gravestone by the husband of Sue Goodway as he walked through their local cemetery one day. They did not know him but they wanted to find out more about him and his part in the Battle of Normandy.
Ronald Davies – died 15 June 1944
Behind each death lies a personal story of family loss. This is seen in the Story of Ronald Davies, Royal Engineers, wounded on 14 June 1944 but died the following day. On the day his wife heard of his death she also received a parcel. It contained his belongings and his present to her for her 23rd birthday.
211 Battery, Royal Artillery, firing in support of infantry during the advance on Tilly-sur-Seulles, 13 June 1944 © NAM. 1985-11-36-248
From mid-June the Battle entered a new phase. British and other Allied forces were fighting in the ‘Bocage’ country which was ideal for defence. The great storm of 19 to 22 June disrupted the supply of troops and material and the advance to Caen had slowed. Poor weather often restricted support from the air forces and military gains were limited.
Alfred Barnes – died 17 June 1944
Whilst the big Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries like Bayeux War Cemetery are well-known and hold the majority of those killed during the fighting, there are some quiet spots where you may find the grave of just one fallen serviceman.
Alfred Barnes, who is buried in Basly, Calvados, is one such person. It shows the ongoing connection between the French and the men who came to liberate France. Each year they have laid a wreath on his grave but in 2006 they were contacted by one of his relatives to thank them for the care given.
Sandy Ballantine – died 20 June 1944
Not all men of the RAF were killed whilst flying. A number played a vital role in maintaining the temporary airfields created in Normandy and despatching aircraft where needed. Sandy Ballantine had served as a pilot until an operation made him blind in one eye. He transferred to Ground Control and discovered that he had an apptitude for radar. He worked as Chief Controller, Ground Control Interceptor and landed on D-Day to set up the radar units at B2 Airfield, Bazenville.
Sidney Cole – died 24 June 1944
As the Battle of Normandy progressed there was an ongoing need to keep the battlefront supplied with men and materials. Troop ships and supply ships plied the English Channel but the Germans made many attempts to disrupt this. The heaviest loss of life whilst doing this work occurred on 24 June 1944, when the troopship MV Derrycunihy was hit. One of the many men killed that day was Sidney Cole.
George Brueton – died 25 June 1944
On Armed Forces Day we look at the Story of George Brueton. Trying to ascertain facts is sometimes hard during battles and George’s Story shows how getting confirmation of the date of death could be difficult. But that search for information can bring unexpected surprises as Part 2 of his Story reveals.
David Rhys Geraint Jones – died 28 June 1944
Fighting men can be defined by the part their unit played in the various battles. But those fighting in the battle had other lives and interests. Today we look at the Story of David Rhys Geraint Jones, who served in the 159th Brigade HQ and was killed during Operation Epsom. But he was better known back home in Haverfordwest as a poet.
By the beginning of July, the British attack to the west of Caen had not achieved its full objective as the Germans made powerful counter-attacks. But progress began to be made. Operation Charnwood led to the liberation of the northern part of the city. British forces then attacked further west. Attempts to capture the critical observation point of Hill 112 led to very high lossses on both sides. But the British forces had made a gradual advance.
Leslie Lloyd and crew of ND975 – died 1 July 1944
At the beginning of July, the RAF continued to target the re-deployment of German troops. Leslie Harold Lloyd and his crew of ND975 were sent to attacking the railway marshalling yards.
Thomas Hollis – died 4 July 1944
A photo can speak a thousand words. To be able to put a face to a name of a person named on the British Normandy Memorial makes it feel more personal, even if you don’t have a family connection. Researchers like those of the 11th Armoured Division Facebook Group and its Black Bull Research Team have been able to find photos of some of the men who served with the Division. One of them they found was Thomas Frederick Hollis, killed in action on 4 July 1944. Operation Windsor was launched on this day. Whilst the British engaged the German forces north of Caen the Canadian bypassed Caen to the west and were able to capture the airport at Carpiquet.