Today’s hero is my father.

In truth I know little of what he did in Normandy as he would never talk about it. I had hoped that he would open up a bit later on when it was maybe just a little less raw and upsetting, but he died too young for that. He always maintained that he came ashore on the Normandy beaches ‘on the third day when it was all over’.  He never added any details. Certainly by then all of the fighting was far enough away that he would not witness too much carnage. But there was other interesting stuff going on everywhere, why did he not want to mention any of that?

So what do I know? Well I have his service records, they show that he was in 3 Company of the Pioneer Corps. Unfortunately that does not make it much clearer. The history of 3 Company says that they landed a total of 10 sections of 25 men, 5 on the 8th of June (the 3rd day) and 5 on the 12th. But according to the Pioneer Corps Souvenir booklet published in 1946 at least some of the first 5 sections landed on the second day.  They landed at Gold beach.

By dawn that day the beach was open, but the defenders were still close enough to make it a dangerous place to be. For the Pioneers there were many possible tasks for them. They might be shifting stores arriving on landing craft and amphibious vehicles and moving these further up the beaches. They could be transferring the wounded onto the now empty DUKWs and landing craft to be ferried to the ships offshore. They also cleared mines (he was not trained for that, so that’s highly unlikely), barbed wire entanglements and obstacles. Some made roadways off the beach for the tanks and heavy lorries. Some collected the dead bodies, detached body parts and discarded arms and ammunition. Now if that had been your experience would you want to talk about that every time D-Day came up in conversation? While everyone else is celebrating the glorious victory your contribution might not improve the mood. I think he was simply refusing to be drawn into talking about it all by claiming not to have been there.

I came across a similar thing a few years ago while trying to make a little money by finding lost heirs. I found a woman who the Heir Hunting companies had been unable to trace. She was listed as a spinster, but no-one could find a birth record for her. So we could not find her parents and then trace her siblings, they (and/or their descendants) would have been the entitled heirs. I eventually found a woman, of the right age and the right set of unusual given names marrying a chap of the correct family name. So why did all her neighbours and friends think she was a spinster? Just a few months after her marriage her husband was in France with the BEF and in June found himself, with a few others on the beach at Dunkirk. He was one of the unfortunate service men to be killed there. Maud Mary found it easier not to have had a husband killed at Dunkirk when everyone else was celebrating the miracle deliverance.

Dad did sometimes talk about some of his adventures later on when the Allies had broken out of Normandy and were beginning the advance on Paris and the Rhine. He was in a section running a series of decoy camps. The inflatable, and some hardboard and plywood, mock-up lorries and tanks that had been parked in great numbers all over Kent and East Anglia to convince the Germans that the invasion wound be in the Calais area were getting a second outing. They were now being arranged to look like hastily assembled and poorly camouflaged pools of vehicles waiting to move into the front line. Their deception was frequently successful and they were shelled, strafed and bombed on many occasions, often several times a day and for a few days in succession. The key was to set of small charges in some of the vehicles. A few petrol cans with a mixture of petrol, oil (usually waste oil), and diesel gave the right impression. If a few ‘fireworks’ were added the effect was even more convincing.


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