June 6th , 1944 A date that most people will be aware of. Operation Overlord, the Allied campaign to liberate Nazi occupied Europe commenced.
D Day saw hundreds of thousands of young men from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and France fight their way ashore on 5 beaches.
The Americans on Utah and Omaha, The Canadians on Juno and the British on Gold and along with the French on Sword Beach.
One of the units landing on Sword Beach was the 1st Special Service Brigade, famously their Commander, Brigadier Lord Simon Lovat and his piper Bill Millin came ashore wearing Tam O’Shanters with Millin playing his pipes.
This scene was immortalised in the film The Longest Day
A number of Free French Commandos also went ashore with Lovat, the beach was taken at great cost and many fine young men lost their lives that day.
One of these men was 28-year-old Able Seaman Drummond Stewart, from Polton in Midlothian.
He was aboard the LCI(S) 524 Landing Craft Infantry (Small) very similar to this one seen at Juno on D Day
She had beached under heavy fire and took a number of casualties after landing her Commandos. As she withdrew from the beach she received a direct hit in her petrol tanks from a German artillery round.
The thinly skinned wooden boat disintegrated instantly and became a huge fireball, her high octane fuel tanks spewed burning petrol into the sea setting it alight.
Most of the crew made it into the water where they were picked up by a US Navy coastguard vessel.
Drummond Stewart and 7 of his shipmates were not so lucky and perished in the cold waters of the English Channel. His body was lost at sea and he is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial,
So why am I raising this subject now, rather than on the Anniversary of D Day?
A fair question, and one I will answer here.
Six of the Normandy Tourist boards recently launched a campaign promoting a festival to commemorate the 70th anniversary next year. They created an area called the “secteur mythique” (mythical sector). This stretches from Utah in the west,
across all the other beaches where troops came ashore but stops short of Sword, at the eastern end. As well as missing out Sword completely it cuts off part of the Canadian landing beaches at Juno.
It also,bizarrely, omits Pegasus Bridge, the first piece of French soil to be liberated by British Airborne troops.
The reason the French Tourist boards give for this is that 85% of tourists go to the other beaches, in a statement Loïc Jamin, president of the tourist office in Bayeux defended the campaign and said he “did not understand” the controversy.
He may well not understand the controversy but a great many veterans and local people in the landing area have been disgusted by the action of the tourist board.
The Bayeaux tourist board is wrong in my opinion to opt out of the D Day Zone, some of the fiercest fighting of the war took place around Caen where SS Divisions stubbornly held off the Allies and huge damage was done to the city. Hopefully it will reflect on it’s decision and take into account the views of the remaining veterans and those of it’s own citizens.
If your relatives went ashore on D Day I would love to hear to hear from you.