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Eva and her family were not in the apartment now.  They had lost that during one of the hellish raids that had come at the time of restraint from the allies which had lulled them into a false sense of hoping the worst was over.  That was what the newspapers and wireless broadcasts were telling then and, of which her neighbour from upstairs had verified.  He had pounded on her door a few days after the allies had invaded Normandy to relay the good news.”Frauline Butz,” he`d gushed, rushing past her waving the Volkischer Beobachter, the Nazi party newspaper in front of her face.  “Look what`s happening in France – we have nearly won the war.  Let me read it to you.”

“It`s too soon to say.”  Pierre answered in a hushed voice.  He led Henri by the shoulder taking him away from the throng of people who were going about the daily task of making the most of their cave like existence.  “The Germans have their tanks all around the entrance to Caen.  Pierre drew Henri hard by his shoulder toward him and hissed.  “The SS have murdered over six hundred people in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane. They shot some in the market square and burned others alive in the church.”

Henri`s head shot up.  “Why would they do such a thing?”

“Because they are murderers and since the allies landed are finding any excuse to kill.”

71st Anniversary of D day – A Special Day

With its shuttered châteaus, cobbled streets, Norman churches and cascading blooms tumbling from balconies, being in Normandy France is always a pleasant experience.  But being there on the 6th June, the anniversary of the allied Normandy invasion, puts a whole different prospective on the experience.

For the first time tourist, visiting all of the major commemorative sites such as the cemeteries and invasion beaches moves ones heart and mind into an unexpected emotive state.

When visiting Bayeux cemetery, the biggest British and Commonwealth cemetery,you come to a place of peace and tranquillity, each grave adorned with plants and small shrubs that caress carved names and ranks of the soldiers that lie there.2015-06-05 01.26.42

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Omaha Beach, the American sector of the invasion beaches, its cemetery lying just above the beach where so many lost their lives on the 6th June 1944 and beyond, causes one to gasp at the sheer scale of the rows and rows of crosses that go on as far as the eye can see.

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What a serene sight, these young men laid to rest with the crystal blue of the channel of which they crossed with such bravery and hope for success, glistening in the background.

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But what did it for me, as it always does, was the Normandy Veterans.  Who, despite the Normandy Veterans Association disbanding in 2014, still make this pilgrimage to be here on the anniversary of D day, 6th June 1944, 71 years ago, amidst the ever grateful Normandy civilians who pay homage to these wonderful gentlemen.

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The crowds come from all over the world to witness this spectacle of unassuming old soldiers revel in the glory we all, quite rightly, give them.

And on this great day of remembrance and thanks, the sun shone, the military marched,2015-06-05 20.23.26

the pipers played, the parachutists dropped from the skies all over Normandy.2015-06-05 21.30.35

There were hymns, prayers and heartfelt words from the Mayor of Normandy bringing tears to the eyes of all.

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There was music, jitterbugging, laughter and tears.2015-06-06 03.50.28

Fireworks, applause, handshakes and embraces.

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But the most emotive of all …….

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…… was the promise to do it all again – next year.

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I will be there.

To Commemorate the 70th Anniversary of D-day – Excerpt From My Novel

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To come upon a tank, a sentiment of war, silhouetting shapes in smoking metal, once a driver,gunner,husband, father, brother or son. Now all that is left of the residue of life are ID discs that would be shipped home with no possessions – possessions lingering in the skeletal pockets of death, just memories of happy faces and the embrace of final hugs and promises of return. New babies cradled and children holding onto trouser legs, misty eyes upward turned to search their father`s face as they kissed mum goodbye entrenched in a crowded platform with whistles – and steam – and tears.
Farewell wasn`t meant to be eternal and no-one prepared them for the finality of it.

omaha beach

Gary was hardened to war, after four years he had to be. But thinking of ma, as they buried them, he hoped she wouldn`t have to carry the burden of a lost child. For he knew, his tears for once defying his hard-edged heart, his ma would not harbour the weight of it.

6th June 1944 – 70th Anniversary of Dday. Dday – Excerpt from my novel.

TUESDAY

JUNE 6th 1944

D-day

It had been slick, quick and bloody for the Germans.  Major John Howard`s D company 2nd battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire light infantry had attacked the two bridges, one over the Orne Canal – codename Pegasus, and one over the Orne four hundred yards away – codename Horsa. The bridges provided a crucial link between the invasion beaches and the airborne landings and needed to be in British hands before the landings took place preventing any counter attack from the Germans.  John Howard`s men comprising of six platoons, plus thirty sappers form 249 Company Royal Engineers, in total, one hundred and eighty men, plus pilots in six gliders, had attacked the bridges at one minute past midnight.

“Christ there`s the bridge!” The pilot, Staff Sergeant Jim Wallwork had shouted from the cockpit.  The nose of the glider dove steeply.  “Where do you want to finish up sir?”  He asked, in jocular fashion, as he fought with the controls of the glider having to deploy the arrestor parachute – the glider coming in way too high.

Major Howard, never one to turn down a challenge, albeit his answer rather droll knowing the likelihood of pinpointing a precise landing in the engine-less Horsa gliders nigh impossible, told him,” Ideally Jim, right through the wire defences of the bridge!”

“Right oh sir.”

Daft old sod, Major Howard smiled wryly.  But the skill of the pilot was paramount to the success of the operation.  Too short and the glider would end up in the pond – too long and they would land on the Germans heads!  Complete surprise was what was needed.  The great wooden bird, swooping silently alongside the canal bounced on the ground – became airborne – bounced again – hit the ground – bounced again – rose up briefly – the ground whizzing past – flint flashing.  Were they German bullets?  Were the Germans ready and waiting?  Luckily it was just the skids hitting the ground.The glider hurtled in frenzied speed on uneven ground then – crashed, hitting the ground for the final time.

John Howard was thrown to the ground – the cockpit disintegrating.  There was no time to check the condition of the pilots or the fate of the other gliders. The rest of the platoon was out, some thrown out, some tumbling out.  Major Howard collected his men.  They knew exactly what was expected of them.  He led his platoon towards the road which led to the bridge.  Phosphorous bombs were lobbed at the pillbox across the road.  Waking Germans, confused and unsure of what was happening, screamed as thirty-six grenades – dumped through slits of the pillbox, dropped at their feet. Panic, screams, explosions, ripped flesh – and then silence.  Any survivors were finished with bursts of machine gun fire. Then they were on to the next target.  Miraculously, there was no firing from the Germans.  John Howard`s men moved swiftly and with deadly earnest attacking without mercy pillboxes, gun nests and trenches.

The Germans tried in the confusion to man their positions and fire back – but it was too late.

“Ham and Jam,” were the magic words that came from the 38 radio set carried by Major Howard`s batman, indicating that the mission was a success.  The whole thing had taken just fifteen minutes – the bridge secure and intact.

 

For the young men of the 101st and 82nd Airborne, things had not gone quite so well.  Thick banks of cloud had encumbered the pilots in finding the correct drop zones and the Germans had opened the sluice gates flooding the valleys and turning the whole area into a quagmire.  As hundreds dropped from planes hopelessly off target, many inexperienced parachutists were swallowed by glupes of mud, dragged down with heavy equipment, arms flaying, mouths filled with rancid water.  Or they dropped into the sea or became entangled in trees or hit roofs.  Many were shot down by heavy fire before they even hit the ground.

For private Sherman Oyler, this was not the glorious first entrance into Normandy he had hoped for.  He had lost his leg strap as soon as he had jumped, plus his webbing with most of his ammunition.  But this was worse!  He couldn’t release himself from his harness as he hit the mud.  He squealed with panic when he could feel nothing beneath him.  He flayed at the mud as he was slowly sucked down.  If only he could release his harness!  But he couldn’t reach the knife in his jacket.  His hands fought the straps – the parachute sprawled in front of him but was not attached to anything solid and would not hold his grip. Frantically pulling at it as it lay on dry land just yards in front of him, he panicked further as the parachute collected in a great white mass before him.  In his panic, he had discarded his sub machine gun – his mouth filling with black gunk, his screams becoming garbled – sickly – his nose the only organ taking in air – then that too began to fill – his ears could still hear the frantic throes in his throat – they too became muffled in silence shutting out the sensory of his world.  His head became heavy and pounding, even more terrifying – his brain was still very much alert – his eyes the only thing visible – wide with terror  – then blackness – stinging thick slime – his world dark and suffocating – a huge bubble of mud entombing him – grappling hands slowing – then stopping, both hands laying flat upon the surface of the swamp – they too then disappeared.

A gift General Eisenhower had given him just before take off, a small plate, was the only thing visible.  The inscription on the plate read:

Heaven Can Wait

 

Major Danvers sat at the small desk aboard the Empire Battleaxe and opened his diary for what would be his last entry:

6th June 1944 04.45 hrs.

What a gigantic effort each man now has to make – to face up to something like this.  Men who may have had only a little of life – men with  little education and little knowledge – men with ailing estranged or poor  families.  Men who have never been loved – men who had high ambitions.  Yet we are all here – we`re going as ordered – willingly into battle.

Putting down his pen, he slowly closed the page, wondering if any other entry would ever be made.  Picking up the photograph of his family, he kissed them, replaced it on the desk, placed the diary in his top pocket and went to spend the last few hours on board – with his men.

 

The minesweepers stealthily forged ahead flanked by the great destroyers escorting them on their hazardous task.  Sweeping away the thousands of mines laid by the Germans in the English channel, the crew of the minesweepers did not deviate from the enormity of their mission, facing death and destruction at every turn.  The ten channels – within the English channel of which the fleet was divided – two per force and beach sector, had to precede the flotilla`s advance.  Marking the lanes with lighted dan buoys, they then moved in to sweep the waters of the invasion beaches.  Behind the minesweepers came the floating nerve centre of the operation, the Command ships.  Equipped with radio antennae and radar, these floating Command posts would formulate the network of communication directing the fleet through the perilous waters.

 

Jack sighed a long laborious sigh and muttered under his breath.  He was cold, wet and wondered what the hell he was doing here.  He should, if he were at home, be just starting his shift at Winterbottoms.  It was almost light, dawn had broken, a realization that chilled his heart.  He pushed through the lines of soldiers standing on the deck of the Empire Battleaxe to where his mate Sam was standing.  Sam was staring out to sea.  The early morning mist lamenting across the grey foreboding channel was slowly lifting.  As it did so, it was uncovering its prize, one it had cleverly concealed in the darkness.  Nothing – absolutely nothing could have prepared Jack for the sight before him.  He gulped, mesmerised at what his eyes were telling him and what was bearing down on Hitler`s fortress Europe.  As far as Jack could see, across each side of the Empire Battleaxe – were ships – hundreds and hundreds of ships – of every description.

Squashing himself smaller so he could fit between the troops, Jack was trying to take in the inconceivable sight.  Gracing the waters, paramount amongst the lesser vessels were the warships of Bombardment Force D, gigantic predators majestically stalking the waters.  H.M.S Warspite and Ramilies, cut through the water like knives cutting paper, almost shunning the rust scarred freighters that parried astride them.  Then came the British cruisers Mauritius, Arethusa, Frobisher, Danae, all equipped with powerful naval guns.  Hospital ships, weather beaten tankers, ocean liners and channel steamers with columns of smoke trumpeting, had taken their place in the vast fleet.

Jack looked right – left – in front of him- behind him – pushed himself right up to the rails.  “Here watch it mate!”  Great vessels carried numerous smaller landing craft, neatly aligned in rows, soon to be lowered into the water.  Little tugs parried around the huge vessels, hordes of them, jostling for power.  LSI`s like the Empire Battleaxe – H.M.S Glenearn, Cutlass, Broadsword, Astrid, Maid of Orleans, Goathland and the Locust were advancing in order packed to the brim with troops.  Endless columns of larger landing craft, full of glistening helmets below the LSI`s bobbed and bounced.  Ahead of the convoy were minesweepers and dozens and dozens of motor launches.  Leading this awesome procession of the Eastern Task Force was the cruiser H.M.S Scylla – the flagship of Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian.  Again, as always, hundreds of silver barrage balloons, almost invisible as they merged with the dawn mist, bowed and curtsied high above the fleet.

Jack looked upward, the sky imitating the frenzied activity of the sea.  Roaring and buzzing were Spitfires and Thunderbolts weaving in and out of the clouds and then came the long drawn out pulsating roar of more B26 bombers, and then, droning and thundering along came the magnificent heavies – the Lancaster bombers, wing to tip – cumbersome, laborious – beautiful.  All of the aircraft had the three invasion stripes on their wings, which struck joy to the heart.

Sam slapped Jack`s back.  “Hitler`s fucked!”

Suddenly, without warning, a great thunderous BOOM,  although a good distance away from the Empire Battleaxe had Jack and the troops instinctively ducking, hands curled around helmets.  Another BOOM – billows of smoke – a huge flash – BOOM – the warships covering Gold Beach had begun firing onto the Normandy coastline.  From their position on the ship they could see, screaming from the LCT(R`s) (landing craft rocket) salvoes of rockets streaking towards the coast like devils with tails alight thwarting the grey dawn`s arrival.

The lads cheered and whistled.  “We’ll have nothing to do,”  Sam shouted.  “They’ll have flattened the bastards!”

The naval bombardment  of the Normandy coastline had now begun;  In the distance warships and destroyers were pulverising the coastline.  Fighters and bombers were bombing the headline of the coast with the ferocity of a wolf snapping up its prey.

The assault convoy had now arrived at the lowering position, heaving to and anchoring eight miles off the French coast.  Admiral Ramsey`s Operation Neptune, the first stage of Operation Overlord, was now in full swing.  It was Jack, Gary`s, Captain John Hamilton`s and thousands of troops – last stop.

The next stop – the Normandy beaches.

The ships were now a hive of activity, seething with noise, chains rattling in the divits as assault crafts swung down the side of the mother ships.  Navy coxswain positioned in the crafts as they were lowered away.  When the crafts hit the water, the coxswain thrust the engines into life and roared off, did a semi-circle and brought the assault craft back in line with the mother ships.

This was something they had practised time and time again during the months of rehearsals, so the climb down the scramble net was not deterring, but the sea below was.  The LCA was bouncing and bobbing with each huge swell.  Jack`s heavy boots felt their way down each ridge of rope.  Loaded down with his seventy-pound pack on his back, the large bulge of his May-West under his armpit, it was a laborious decent, the sea rolling and swelling towards him waiting to snatch him away.

The assault crafts of the flotilla dipped and rolled the undulating waves that crashed over the gunwales.  Vomiting was continuous and relentless.  The stink of engine oil, the landing crafts rolling this way, rolling that way, lifted up, smashed back down again.  Darting eyes, thumping hearts, tears and rosaries held in white knuckles.  A mighty fleet forging onwards.  Lines and lines of ships, destroyers, battleships, landing crafts, a magnitude of power carrying youth too young for death, for life, for fear, just babes trying to be men.   Thousands of ships, waves crashing against bows, white surf.  This great flotilla facing the tyranny that will no longer destroy, will no longer rule, a swirling mass of power, breaking the dawn, breaking the waves, breaking hearts. The sea covered with the hope of the world.

The bombardment ceases – the big guns are silent.  Jack`s landing craft weaves in between grotesque iron rails and pickets.  He eyes the deadly teller mines strapped on top and as the craft blindly passes the calling of death – in the midst of his minds eye – he can see other craft all around strike the obstacles and explode upwards.

The landing craft beaches some thirty yards from the shore.  They crouch – diesel engines in reverse, they stand – zip – zip – bullets like someone sucking on their teeth – BOOM – BOOM – mortars explode.

“RAMPS DOWN!”  They surge – visitors to hell.

Jack is in the water.  Someone screams.  “JACK – JACK!” Sam`s lungs are filling. “JACK – JACK.”

Jack tries to run, water waist high, the weight on his back pulling him down. The man in front falls – he`s going under. Gulping, swallowing, pink flesh lodges onto Jack“s face, he grapples.  Coming up – he sucks the air – zip-zip-zip.  Bulging eyes.  An arm floats.  A landing mine swerves – hits the teller mines – disintegrates – no survivors.

“JACK – JACK!” Sam disappears.

Another body floats past, blackened face – no face, sea turned red. Jack pushes a severed head away with his chest.  The head bobs as the waves taunt it – mouth gaping, blood red eyes staring. Jack has Sam in his grasp, his friend, his mate, his brother in arms.  Zip-zip-zip.  So many men running.  Smoke, screams, bullets, explosions, shouts, crazy, horror.

 

At precisely, 7.25am on Gold Beach, the 1st battalion of the Hampshire Regiment hit the right of the beach – Jig Green – the right of the line, the traditional post of honour. It was an honour duty bound and bestowed upon the Hampshires for unrivalled accomplishments – but was not replenished by any added heroics – not this day.  This day was about staying alive.  The Dorset Regiment were on the Hampshire`s left, but from this position, no-one could tell how they were fairing.

Private Charlie Hewson, the driver of the Bren Gun Carrier was struggling to get the carrier out of the water and onto the beach.

“Which way? Which way?”  Charlie yelled from his seat.  Despite her extra side extensions specially fitted for the event, sea water poured over the carriers side, the extensions blocking Charlie`s view.

“RIGHT – LEFT – RIGHT – LEFT.”  Gary stood on the back of the carrier, a precarious position, trying to avoid the angle irons that were loaded with teller mines protruding out of the water like some barbaric torture mechanisms.  Out of the haze of the morning mist and smoke, the underwater obstacles loomed up.  About 250 yards from the shoreline were the high ramps and posts tipped with mines.  Sited closer to the high-water mark, eight foot by ten foot steel girders bolted together at their centres with wooden ramparts and barbed wire, guarded the beach against any foolhardy invasion.   The obstacles towering above them and sown a few feet apart, the choppy waves threatened to draw them toward then, the carrier swaying, tilting with each wave, the angle irons just a hairs breath away.  Any slight collision would have brought their Dday to a short conclusion, as already had for so many.  The deep water obstacles, revealed by the tide, had still managed to achieve their intentions the steel spikes ripping along the hulls of craft rendering them useless before teller mines on top exploded. Dug deep into the beach the Germans had developed a complex of over two thousand five hundred mined obstacles, the four foot high wooden posts and six foot high iron built rails laden with explosives – had taken their prize.

Many landing craft were blown hopelessly off course, caught by the sudden swell turning sideways, men ready to disembark – mines and explosives detonated, sending a circus of chaos upward. Splinters of wood encased flesh, bodies blown high into the air like rag dolls, limbs departing, the screaming just a whisper amongst the pandemonium.   Boat after boat hung on the obstacles.

With each instruction Gary yelled, Charlie yanked the steering wheel right-left, water soaking his feet, the torrent of water, like a waterfall, pouring over the carriers sides.  Must keep the engine going at full revs!  As she lifted upward, the tracks snug on dryer land, Gary, privates Robert Smith and Christopher Knight, jumped into the water, wading through waist high.  The sea was teeming with soldiers all making their affront onto Gold Beach.  They were greeted by withering machine gun fire.

 

Nine miles west of Gold Beach, Captain John Hamilton was ignoring the murderous machine gun fire.  A soldiers gut was spilling into his hand. He was trying to administer sulphonamide powder to the wound pulling the packet open with his teeth, whilst trying to plug the hole in the soldier`s stomach with his fist.  And he needed morphine.  German fire was coming from all angles on Omaha Beach.  All along the six-mile stretch of flat beach – from five gullies embedded in the cliffs, artillery positions plunged into disgorging GI`s.  Grazing fire swept the sand like a spreading fire, from all types of weapons.  The cliff-like ridges concealed many German foxholes and bunkers from which, not one inch of that beach was not pre-sited for devastating and enfilade fire.

John had already treated so many soldiers.  It had been a slaughter – a blood-bath.  From their artillery positions all along the cliffs at either end of the crescent shaped beach, Omaha had been like a turkey shoot. Fingers on triggers of machine guns and rifles, mortars held back until the landing crafts hit the sand bar.  As was on Sword and Gold beaches,  the air bombardment, because of the cloud cover, caused the B-17s to drop their bombs five miles inland.  Not one bomb had dropped on the beach or bluff. The naval bombardment too had failed to clear the German strong-points at the top of the bluff and at either end of the beach.  From the moment the ramps came down as the landing crafts hit Omaha Beach, they were mown down – droves of them.

John was weary with the dead, his medicine mostly obsolete in this theatre of death.  The padre constantly made the invisible sign of the cross above the dead and the dying, muttered his prayers or predominantly, the last rights, whilst holding bloody hands.The padre questioned his own faith.  In the odd moment, he took refuge behind the wreckage – so much wreckage.  “God, why are you allowing this?”  He wiped his brow.  The blood of America transferred to his skin.  He shed a quiet tear.  Then,his bible clutched to his heart, tried to instil some faith back into his soul.

John did save lives, but they were so few they seemed almost insignificant. And still the landing crafts came – spilling more youth to their slaughter.

 

It had to be a quick recovery.  The allies bombardment had immobilised their brains, desensitised every thinking pattern.  First it had been the heavy bombers, their payload whistling and crashing down.  Then something unseen, unexpected, had unleashed a mighty fury upon them. They had taken refuge from the bombardment in the casement that housed the big 88mm gun on the beach at Hermanville-la-Breche.  The beach Heinrich would later learn the Tommies called – Queen Red – Sword Beach.  They had withstood everything the allies could throw at them.  Though only God would know how they had survived.  Heinrich had expected that at any moment they would be blown to Kingdom Come, blown into the sand.  Dust that covered every morsel of their skin had seeped into lungs, clogging the throat making breathing almost impossible.

When the lull had finally come, their ears thick with a silent terror and worse, what terror their eyes fell upon when they dared look beyond the confines of their concrete tomb.  Thousands upon thousands of ships were upon them.  A dark mass of incomprehensible power.  Boats, landing crafts and soldiers – so many soldiers – running straight  towards them!

 

“This is the BBC news at midnight.  Reports of operations show our forces have succeeded in their landings.  After four years, the allies have finally returned to the northern shore of occupied France.”

A note from the author.

Dday the 6th of June was just the beginning.  The allies would take another three months to break out of Normandy.  There were many more deaths and wounded on both sides – and not forgetting the many casualties the French civilians endured for the liberation of their country, of which my novel also covers.  This is a story of hellish proportions of misery, bravery and loss taken from many accounts and from many veterans who became my friends.  My great friend Sergeant Ronald White of the Hampshire Regiment who landed on Gold Beach at 7.25am on Dday told me, “You can`t put it into words really.  You had to be there.”  These posts are only short extracts from my novel and I have posted them for the 70th Anniversary of Dday.  Many of my Veteran friends are no longer with us, including my wonderful friend and mentor Ron.  My only answer to Ron`s statement is:

We, the generation who now benefit from your sacrifice were not there, but I can only hope that through the words of my novel, I may have just portrayed a little of what it was like for you.  I can only say, with your help, I have tried my very best.

AE Newstead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5th June 1944 70th Anniversary Dday – 1 day to H hour – Excerpt from my novel.

The clock read 3.30 am. the morning of the 5th June and General Eisenhower was already awake as he had been for most of the night. Placing the clock back on the table beside his bunk, he sighed heavily, not through tiredness, though he was tired enough, but his exasperation was because of the rain still pounding the roof of his trailer.  He was forty-five minutes from having to make the biggest decision of the war – maybe his life – and the weather was sure not going to help that decision.  Having already preliminarily ordered the fleet to converge to Normandy, all it would take now was his final order and the fleet would be unstoppable.

The lights up at Southwick House glared through the darkness, horizontal rain beating against shuttered windows.  The wind, furious and ever fervent shook the very foundations. There was no small talk, no pleasantries exchanged.  General Eisenhower resumed the meeting with the formality and urgency required.  The next fifteen minutes would decide the fate of hundreds and thousands of men and over two years of planning.

“Well John, what do you have for us?” General Eisenhower asked.

“Well – I’ve got good news.” John Stagg had just taken the phone call that had given him the final weather report.  “There is no substantial change to my forecast from last night General.”  John was smiling.  “The storm will break before dawn.  The 6th of June will be a fine day and possibly the 7th as well.”  Not one to wallow in praise, however, after all John had endured these past forty-eight hours, some around this table, he sensed, maybe not trusting his report, he added, “I would just like to add gentlemen,” his eyes whipped past each Commander. “if we had gone on the 5th as planned, the landings would have been a complete disaster.”  Not wanting to take the praise for this, after all it had not been his decision to postpone the landings, but General Eisenhower`s, turning to the General John told him, “You certainly without a doubt sir, took the right decision to postpone.”

“Could you perhaps enlighten us more of what the actual weather report stated John?”  General Eisenhower asked.

“The approaching front is likely to dominate until late morning and probably late afternoon of the 6th.  Cloud cover will be 3/10ths or less – cloud base 700 to 1000 metres – wind force at the landing coast 4 to 5 – but could be 3 – visibility good.”

General Eisenhower, silent and alone in his deliberation had to weigh up this new situation.  If John Stagg was wrong and the weather did not clear, at best the Allied Expeditionary Force would be landing sea sick men without adequate air cover and naval bombardment. The landings would prove disastrous, troops unable to land in gale swept seas.

No-one spoke.  The fire crackled, the clock ticked.  The Supreme Commander was a man who believed in his hunches.  All he had before him were the facts, a window of opportunity miraculously given him – and his gut feeling.  Time had run out.  One man and one man alone had to make the final decision; it was why he had been given the job – a decision that would change millions of lives forever.

After that final pause needed to assure himself that all necessary due deliberations had been taken, he looked up, he smiled and he uttered the words.  It was a soft announcement.  Grossly underrated and one that would mark the history books forever.

“OK – let`s go!”

 

The invasion was now unstoppable.  The library had only taken a few moments to clear.  After a thunderous cheer, the Commanders dashed to take up their command posts. Admiral Ramsey sent out the Order of the Day to every officer in his fleet.

It is our privilege to take part in the greatest amphibious operation in history – the hopes and prayers of the free world and of the enslaved people of Europe will be with us and we cannot fail them.  I count on every man to do his utmost to ensure the success of this great enterprise.  Good luck to you all – and God speed.

Thus the scene was set:

Operation Overlord had never been one man’s idea, one man`s planning.  A great machinery of minds had put the plan into place.  Every plausible option, every plan, every assault was studied for faults, improbabilities and impossibilities.  With a little bit of luck, good weather and a momentous amount of bravery, there was every chance of success.

Dday the 6th June – would hopefully lead Europe to victory and end the five year war.

 

On the Normandy coastline, nothing was untoward.  At the little coastal resort of Riva Bella near Ouistreham, Heinrich sat behind his twin mounted machine gun in the fortified pill box overlooking the beach.  He was writing a letter to his wife:

It is with a troubled soul I write to you my dear.  How are you and the children? I need to ask you this first before my heart pours out its grief to you.  I am here looking over the channel.  The grey-grey channel that holds inconceivable mysteries.  Beyond that slim stretch of water an enemy waits to devour us.  Just this slip of water separates hell and eternity.  My comrades are confident we will throw the enemy back into the sea.  I hope we do, but my heart is heavy.  Who are the enemy I ask – the allies or us?  I do not wish to burden you with these woes, but if I should never see you again, I want you to know how much I was thinking of you in these last hours.

 My Kommanders say the allies will not come yet.  But there is something wrong.  My comrades swim in the cold water and laugh at the shore`s edge.  As they eat strawberries, juice running as blood down their chins, I ask, why are the fishing boats that are usually up and down the coast, despite the bad weather, now remaining in solitude in the harbour?  The sure swell of water slumbers in the certitude of its own survival – albeit that it will turn red.  The sea is so empty – even the seagulls have taken to hiding in the crevices to wait whilst man annihilates and then they will swoop to claim their pickings.  They have an instinct we mere mortals do not comprehend.  Why do we not heed God’s warning?

Please forgive me for sounding so unhappy my dear wife, but I all I want is to be with you away from this place full of death that will gore out mens souls.  The place is littered with instruments of demise of which no flesh will survive.  How can this place so pretty with its villas and brightly painted houses, a holiday resort that beckons happy faces, distort itself to such madness and play host to such barbarism?

I pray my sweet girl that God will forgive all our souls for this untimely and unkempt theatre of war we present to him in the name of his sons.  I pray that God will also forgive me for the men I have to kill in the name of the Fatherland and that if my death is imminent, then let it be ungracious to God`s forgiveness – but also swift in its grace.

I do love you.

Heinrich

 

He was almost amongst them, his grin as big as his heart.  “How you doin` boys?”

Steel helmets were pulled off, rows of white teeth lit up blackened faces, shoulders shook with hard handshakes and the news had spread that he was here.  The mutterings became shouts, shouts became cheers, cheers became whistles, whistles became handclaps.  The noise had all the troops on the airfields attention. The groups of paratroopers on the airfield merged into one huge crowd – General Eisenhower disappearing amongst them.  He was visiting the base of the 101st Airborne Division at Newbury near Berkshire.  “Everything else can wait,” he had said earlier that morning.  “I want to see the boys of the 101st.”

General Eisenhower spoke to each man as he shook their hand. It was almost adoration, such respect that the Supreme Commander had taken the time to come here.  General Eisenhower laughed with them, shook hundreds of hands and spoke quietly to some, joked with others but conversed with all he met.  Amidst all of this cheery exchange, the General also gave last minute instructions. “There is a need to crush our Nazi enemy if we are to survive and to defeat him, rendering him incapable of rising up and doing it again.  It is therefore necessary to steel ourselves for this task.”

The boys of the 101st elated by General Eisenhower’s visit, a great boost to morale, continued with their preparations, it wasn’t long before take off.

Light was beginning to fade.  Lines of paratroopers began to form a queue before their assigned planes.  Emotional last talks were given then the first man was hauled up the steps, their loads heavy on their backs.

A huge disharmony of sound came from the airfield as each C-47, in its turn, lurched onto the taxi-strip.  As the first of the planes headed the runway the pilots locked brakes, ran the engines until they screamed.  Then each plane, at ten minute intervals started down the runway gathering speed.  The nose tipped upwards, wheels leaving the floor, then up – up – so huge – so cumbersome – so beautiful – were airborne.  One – than another – and another, direction blinker signals winking, three invasion stripes marking their mission.  The glider planes, the spider thin cables snaking frantically until the C-47 towing it took its weight, effortlessly lifting it to the sky.  Circling – circling.  How many? So many – this vast force – this great might flying for freedom – for the love of their country.

General Eisenhower, staff officers, British soldiers manning anti-tank guns, clerical workers – all outside – work abandoned, all eyes turned upwards, all silent, all in awe.  The fading light of the day cast shadows from the airborne monster planes across the runway and the queues of planes still waiting to taxi. The whole scene was a cascade of armoury that defied imagination.

The first in formation circled in farewell, banked and tailed off.  Brave young men, some never to return.  Heading for Normandy.

Thirteen thousand British and American paratroopers from airfields all across England had taken to the skies heading for Normandy on this night – 5th June 1944

In the morning – the morning of the 6th June – one hundred and seventy five thousand vessels, of which four thousand were ships and landing crafts engaged in the assault and follow up stages.

One thousand naval vessels to protect the fleet and to blast the enemy ashore.  Seven hundred and thirty six ancillary craft.  Eight hundred and sixty four merchant supply ships

Eleven thousand five hundred aircraft – of which – over three thousand four hundred heavy bombers, nine hundred and thirty medium bombers, three thousand eight hundred fighters to protect air and sea and provide ground support to the landing forces. One thousand and sixty transport for massive airlift and three parachute divisions.  Three thousand five hundred gliders carried more troops.  Five hundred reconnaissance aircraft watching every movement of land, one thousand planes from coastal command seeking out the enemy out at sea.

And almost two hundred thousand – very brave men.

In a few hours

It is now Dday – 6th June 1944

June 4th 1944 – 70th Anniversary of Dday – 1 day to H hour – Excerpt from my novel.

Out in the Atlantic, weighty slate grey clouds banished the onset of dawn fighting for dominance over the impending sunrise. The ships of the Western Naval Task Force led by Rear Admiral A G Kirk and carrying the American infantry, rounded Lands End forging towards the Isle of Wight and `Piccadilly Circus` – the code-named assembly area.  The Eastern Task Force led by Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian, carried troops covering the British sector, would arrive in the assembly area later that morning.  The rest of the flotilla carrying the second wave of the invasion, were sitting just off the south coast aboard their ships and landing crafts.  The task force would rendezvous and then wait – for General Eisenhower`s final decision to go.

 

“Gentlemen the fears my colleagues and I had yesterday have been confirmed.”  John Stagg delivered his bleak statement with a soft scottish accent that hinted at sentiment.

The SHAEF Commanders were again gathered in the library of Southwick House – the clock reading 4.14 am on the morning of the 4th June – almost twenty-four hours before the planned date of the invasion.

General Eisenhower, grim faced and weary from lack of sleep asked John, “And the forecast for the next few days?”

John`s answer was given with a slightly risen pitch of hope.  “There is a benign high detected between the low pressure areas forming over Iceland.”  But then the hope was dashed.  “But I am disturbed by the longer forecast of high winds and low disability.  However, at this stage, I cannot differentiate one day from another during the invasion period.”

“And the sea condition?”  Admiral Ramsey asked.

“The sea condition will be slightly better than at first anticipated, but according to the Dunstable forecast, there is still low cloud forecast with a 1000 foot ceiling and level 4 to 5 force winds.”

“You were optimistic yesterday John.”  General Eisenhower reminded him.  “Is there just a chance that you might be a bit more optimistic about the forecast for tomorrow?”

John Stagg gave a slight shake of his head and dropped his gaze.  “The balance has gone too far to the other side for it to swingback overnight tonight.”  His negativity cast the hearts of all seated in the library – to their boots.

For days – weeks, General Eisenhower had deliberated and agonized over the weather forecast – each forecast over the last few days worse than the other – no respite.  With the amphibious landings due to take place between 0600 hours and 0800 hours on the 5th – tomorrow – the final decision to attack had to be made at least twenty-four hours prior to this.  He needed to act decisively.

The room fell silent. Not a man in the room would have swapped places with the General.  General Eisenhower`s burden was heavy.  Millions of lives rested upon his decision.  Operation Overlord was already going in with a very slim margin of ground superiority.  If he postponed until the 19th June – the next date of correct moon and tide conditions – he would have to call the whole fleet back. which would seriously increase a major security leak – never mind the whole nightmare of unloading troops and equipment.   General Eisenhower pulled himself straight.  He had no choice.  “To cover a last minute possible improvement,” he informed all round the table, ” the remaining assault forces in port will embark and  we will convene again here at 4.15 am tomorrow.”  His next statement was the one that had haunted him for weeks, one that he hoped with all his heart he would be able to retract in twenty-four hours time – or the whole operation, planned meticulously for the past two years would be doomed to failure.  The invasion is hereby postponed – for twenty-four hours.”

 

Most of the convoy of ships, landing crafts and battleships were already positioned at Area Z codenamed `Piccadilly Circus` the rendezvous point just off the Isle of Wight.  The rest were on their way or still in the ports waiting to sail.  The incessant drizzle had turned to heavy rain.  Waves were beginning to roll, shunting, tossing men who, had the stomach to fight, but not the stomach to thwart the sea.  Most of the day’s rations had already ended up in sick bags, which didn `t take long to fill.  Then it was helmets, fire buckets, the deck or anything else that could act as a receptacle for vomit.  Cramped, wet, tired and feeling very ill, they waited.

The fleet received a signal.  But it was not the anticipate signal, the one that would signal to the fleet to sail for Normandy.

It was another pre-arranged signal – the signal to postpone – for twenty-four hours.

 

On the Normandy coast, except for the prevailing winds – all was quiet.  Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel had driven to Paris to buy a birthday present for his wife’s 50th birthday.  The forty-mile journey between Paris and the great rivers estuary – had proven an arduous one; attacks by allied bombers on the small island that linked the Seine to Paris had destroyed most of the bridges and many of the towns.  Whilst in Paris, Erwin decided to meet with Feldmarschall Karl Rudolf Gerd Von Rundstedt at his headquarters at St-Germain-en Laye.

“The allies will need at least four consecutive days of good weather to be able to mount the invasion, “Feldmarschall Von Rundstedt declared to Erwin, his statement delivered with a certain measure of decorum that masked some distaste for the man before him.  Although both Commanders had firm beliefs and strategies, Von Rundstedt secretly harboured resentment for the younger Feldmarschall Rommel who Hitler had chosen to mastermind the Atlantic Wall.  Nevertheless, Erwin did not buckle under Von Rundstedt`s obvious antagonism and continued to follow his own instincts and experience.  “I agree of course.  I have checked the weather reports,”  Erwin informed Von Rundstedt.  “Over the next few days, the reports indicate increasing cloud, high winds and rain.  The tides in the strait of Dover will not be suitable for an invasion until mid June.”

 

Jack retched yet again, this time he filled his helmet and then with deep gasps, he sucked in fresh air, tipped his helmet and emptied it of vomit over the side of the ship.  Sinking onto the deck, he sort refuge from the raging storm under a section of tarpaulin that covered a line of wagons. He ran a hand over his face, saliva filling his mouth indicating another bout of nausea.  The Empire Battleaxe lilted and dove as the twenty-foot waves tossed her.  She rode the waves as she would a rollercoaster, although there were no shouts of glee, just the sound of retching from sodden troops.  Soldiers on the rain – lashed decks glumly lined the rails of the ship trying to gain a foothold on the surface that would not yield to them.  After the news of the postponement, the fleet had turned back from their rendezvous point and were sitting just off of Portsmouth Harbour.  Those ships and landing crafts that had not already sailed before the postponement was announced, were still sitting in the harbour, the troops stuck on the boats not allowed to leave the vessels. Some one hundred and seventy five thousand men were waiting to cross the channel and the twenty-four hour `reprieve` allowed demons within their minds to cause havoc upon already doubtful territory.  Demons that taunted death – fear.  Demons that undermined positivity and strength of mind.  Holed up for thirty-six hours, they waited in anticipation of some glimmer of hope.  The weather had deteriorated rapidly and many soldiers were plagued with sea-sickness.  With open decks and hardly any shelter men on board landing crafts were wet, cold, sick and miserable.  There was no respite either for men packed together below the deck of the Empire Battleaxe.  For many, the contents of the meal issued to them earlier by the navy crew had made an unwelcome entry back into confinement of the rest areas.  Everywhere stank of vomit.  Those who were not vomiting with sea-sickness, vomited because of the stench of someone who had. Rain lashed, gales blew and the ship danced to the tune.  Feeling so ill, no-one cared anymore why they were there.  No-one cared about the invasion – the Germans – or about being killed.

“I hope the Germans put a bullet straight through my head,” moaned Mike as he slid down next to Jack.  “Shit – I feel bad.”

Jack tried to manage a smile, but it would not develop, he didn’t try to force one either in case any involuntary slight movement, facial or bodily, would set off his tumultuous stomach.  He hadn`t been sick for a full five minutes – and that was a miracle. What would be more a miracle – is that there might be anything left in his stomach to recycle.

 

“Our Father who art in heaven – Hallowed be thy name…”

Gary stood with his comrades, head bowed as the chaplain took the service.  Keeping his head down, he flicked his eyes upwards scanning the hundreds of soldiers who had gathered in the mess room.   Tables were pushed back against the wall out of bounds because of the continuous rolling of the craft.  Some men were muttering their own prayers holding rosaries. Others had their eyes tightly closed and others stared blankly in front of them, lost in their own thoughts.  For Gary, his thoughts were of his family, his ma, his dad and his baby brother Jack who would be, in just a few hours time, experiencing his first combat duty.  Gary hoped Jack would not be too scared.  He was a good lad, a good brother and a good son.  A better son, he knew, than he had been.

The chaplain, clutching his service bible, his army chaplains stole draped around his shoulders, made a sign of the cross and all said, “Amen,” in unison.  The group began to disband, some however stayed with the chaplain, probably never having been to church in their lives, now wanting to be blessed, wanting to take God on their shoulders to the battlefield.  Gary had seen it before when he had landed in Sicily and Italy; everyone had wanted God on their shoulder.  Gary did not stay but made his way back up to the deck of the Arquebus despite the storm.  They had only just set sail so were one of the lucky ships who had not been kept at sea since June 3rd, as had many.  So seasickness for them had not, as of yet, become a problem.  Gary had chosen to stay with his Bren Carrier to try to catch some sleep.  Although the deck was packed with men, they were not so entombed as the men below deck who would sleep on bunks solidly packed along the walls of the ship.

 

Lieutenant Gislason was briefing men of the 29th Division aboard LCI – L- 94.  “Make sure you study the location of the pill boxes,” he warned indicating to the huge map behind him.  “The beach will be littered with mines and booby-trap entanglements.” They had been aboard nearly seventy-two hours having set sail on June 3rd, their route from Falmouth where they had embarked being some eighty miles from their landing beach – Omaha.

“I`ve heard that the beach is defended by 2nd rate Germans.”  A young GI told Captain John Hamilton as the men dispersed.  “Old men and those who are battle – weary from the east.”

John smiled at the young lad who looked as though he should still be in high school. He had huge brown eyes and as John set his gaze on him, he could see that his eyes oozed with tears.  “I`m sure you`re right son,” John placated.

“You`re a doctor then?”  The lad asked indicating to the obvious, John`s Red Cross Brassard quite ominous on the left sleeve of his battle dress.

“Yes.”  John smiled.

“I bet you`ll see some sights then.”  His tears were now threatening to fall.  The poor boy was ringing his hands and chewing hard on gum.   “Maybe things won’t be too bad,”  John tried to reassure. ”

“Well, people are bound to get killed – wounded.”  Now a tear did escape, one which the GI swiftly swept away with his index finger.

“Maybe.  But as you said, the beach is defended by old men so perhaps we wont have such a bad time of it.”  John doubted very much if this were true, but thought better of voicing this opinion, not wanting to spoof the young guy anymore than he already was.

“Are you scared?”  The GI asked.

“Course I am.” John answered gently and honestly. “We’re all scared.”  .

“I don’t want to let the guys down,” the GI quivered.  “But I don`t know if I will be able to do it – kill people.”  His bottom lip trembled and he desperately flung his hand across his face in an attempt to hold his composure, his eyes darting around not wanting to be seen crying by his comrades.

John didn’t quite know what to say, this sort of thing better dealt with by the Padre.  But the young guy had confided in him, John being a complete stranger, maybe that it`s why he could.  “I’m sure you’ll be fine son.”  John placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Try not to think about it too much.”

The boy held his head down, tears now running abated down his cheeks.  “Will you … if I get wounded … will you look after me?”

“Course I will.” A sob almost escaped from John.  In an attempt to check himself he repeated, “You’ll be fine son.”

The young guy placed his hand on top of John`s that still rested on his shoulder. His huge pleading brown eyes cut into John`s heart. Managing  a stifled smile, the GI then went on his way.

“Son,” John called after him.  “What`s your name?”

“Abe,” he told him.  “Abe Dlan from Boston.”

John smiled and nodded.  Abe gave a half-hearted wave, nodded and was on his way again, pushing through the bodies of uniforms until he merged and disappeared amongst them.

John sighed heavily and steadied himself, his arm outstretched holding onto the ironwork of a bunk. Head deep into his chest he muttered,  “This damn war – this bloody damn war.”

 

By eleven pm on the 4th June, all of the fleet had now received an order to sail and once again the fleet made its way to the rendevous point of `Piccadilly Circus` just off the Isle of Wight where it would convene and then sail for Normandy.  It would then wait.  Sitting just off the coast –  for the final order to go.

The storm had not abated.

 

 

 

June 3rd 1944 – 2 days to H hour. 70th Anniversary of Dday – Excerpt from my novel

The whole of Preston Road was jammed with military vehicles.  Soldiers, jeeps, even a column of tanks which was ridiculous on this narrow street.  Pressing her nose to the glass of her bedroom window, Violet tried to see where they were going, it was hard to tell but she thought they were heading for Chichester Road.  From the little she could see, her neck stretched to full capacity and standing on the tips of her toes, it looked as though the whole of Chichester Road was jammed up too.  The scene switched on a sensory button in her brain – Jack!

 

“Good luck!” a woman bellowed.  People were clapping and waving, lining the roads as the whole of Portsmouth filled with the whirring of trucks and jeeps and the clanking of column after column of tanks rumbling along on their way to the embarkation points.  Saturday June 3rd had dawned bright and sunny despite the rain of the night before and the crowd cheered in the sunshine.  Jack did not smile at the waving, cheering people.  They only created a haze of misgivings that tore at his soul.

“I`m telling you – this is it, this is the invasion.”  One woman in the crowd told another. Along the jammed roads, houses had signs hung on their doors – Good Luck Boys – Safe and Quick Return – Tea for Sale.  One woman stood in her doorway holding a tray of homemade scones.  “Thanks Missis.” Were the cries from the passing grateful troops as the scones were scooped up and devoured.  Songs – Is it You – and – Ain’t You My Baby blasted out from the passing vehicles. One soldier grabbed a girl from the crowd and swept her along the pavement to the music, swinging her round to the delight of the crowd and planted a hard kiss on her lips.

In the village of Southwick the scene was much the same.  Lottie and Dick stood outside the Golden Lion Inn as the tanks poured past.  “Here love,”Lottie said, stretching as high as her tight skirt would allow.  She unloaded dozens of packets of Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes into the arms of thankful American GI`s.  Dick handed out bottles of beer to the troops standing high in the turrets of tanks and trucks shuttling past.

“Love ya babe,” a GI standing up in his passing truck pronounced to Lottie holding one hand over his heart.  For Lottie these past few months had been a revelation to her.  Her life had been brightened by these cheeky, fresh-faced young Americans.  Wherever these boys are going, Lottie thought, I do hope they come back.

 

Jack`s lorry arrived at the embarkation point along South Pier.  Quartermasters, navy and army officials were organising the loading. Great tanks were rolling onto Landing Craft Tanks (LCT`s.)  Landing Ship Infantry (LSI`s) were loading thousands of troops with hundreds more snaking up the gangplanks.  Smaller landing crafts, anchored closer to the hard, were full of troops carrying bicycles.  Larger Assault Craft (LCA`s) camouflage nets removed, were full of equipment with troops loading onto the craft behind the vehicles.

Jack stood to the entrance of South Pier and looked beyond the melee.  As far as he could see the whole area depicted a froth of khaki.  Inconceivably – hundreds and hundreds of landing craft anchored in the Solent, stretching almost to Gosport, buffeted each other. Lumbering above the implausible scene were the great silver elephantine barrage balloons, a majestic splendour of protection, drifting in defiance of any planes the Luftwaffe might dare impede the area.

It was a sobering moment for Jack as he walked along in line. Although the familiarity of the loading process helped to ease the tension – marshalling and embarkation routine to them now, his heart was thumping.  It was a surreal moment – a realization that this was it – they were really going and nothing was going to stop that. As the men slowly walked up the gangplank and reached the deck of the Empire Battleaxe, the Quartermaster handed each man a leaflet.  An officer asked for their embarkation tags.  He removed one half, a record of how, where and exactly when they had embarked and then gave them back the other half.  Jack placed his half back into his pay book as instructed.  Now a name, rank and number, he felt dehumanised  and for the first time – terribly frightened.

 

At the dockyard. a lone figure standing some way back from the slipway observed the franticness of the embarkation.  He watched, he pondered, he smoked; he belonged in the relics of the past – a young man embarking on the greatest adventure of his life.  To this man, the great chance of adventure had long gone – but he remembered.  He remembered the farewells, the party atmosphere; the tears from the lady who loved him, how proud she was of him.  He remembered how he had longed to fight the Germans to protect his loved ones, his homeland. To him and the many men who left with him, it was a venture matched by no other, a chance to see the world.  But in the stark reality of war, as it so often was, that venture was nothing more than the wholesale slaughter of young souls never to return.  A venture that bore them deprivation of conditions no animal would survive. He remembered the Victoria Cross pinned to his chest.  An heroic act performed from cowardice that no-one at the time had the sense to realise.  His heart would not betray his need for redemption; his heart would neither accept the heroism his family and friends bequeathed upon him either. He remembered the homecoming.  The pride, the admiration, pints placed upon the bar from gathering mates, his back slapped, his head rubbed, all a drunken haze, his nightmares the only witness to his foul deed.   His only way to survive was to shut these people out.  The people who showered him with their respect.  Respect!  Isaac spat on the ground.  How could they?  The man who had left England so young, so happy, so in love, returned broken, dying, withered.

Tears weren’t far away, but they did not fall.  Issac knew somewhere, amongst those thousands of troops embarking all along Portsmouth harbour, were both his sons.  Isaac would never say it, couldn`t say it, but silently as he drew hard on his cigarette, eyes rimmed red, he did say it – within his closed heart. Good luck Jack and Gary – I wish I was with you.  Come home safe.

Jostling and pushing for space on the deck of the ship, Jack silently read the leaflet he had been given.

General Eisenhower`s message to the allied troops