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    Thumbs up Prep For The Longest Day: From The Eyes Of A Small Boy

    Childhood memories of the Longest Day

    U.S. soldiers practised for D-Day as I watched from my clifftop home

    By David Gurr, Special to Times Colonist June 5, 2009 2:06 AM

    Tomorrow marks the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the beginning of the invasion of Normandy by Allied Forces during the Second World War. The assault on the heavily fortified beaches was the largest air, land and sea operation ever undertaken. By the end of the battle, more than 4,000 men were dead, including 340 of the 14,000 Canadians who attacked Juno Beach.

    Sixty-five years ago, on the sixth day of this sixth month, U.S. army rangers scaled the cliffs at Omaha Beach in Normandy. I think I must be the last person still alive who watched them rehearse it.

    I was eight, living in a villa on top of a cliff in Dorset. (The villa looked like the hotel in Fawlty Towers.)

    The closest village was a mile away. Behind our house, the fields were mined, guarded by barbed wire and scarlet signs with death's heads on them.

    On the beach below the house, a searchlight battery was manned by a mini-platoon of soldiers in khaki battledress and steel helmets, who smoked cigarettes by day and stabbed the sky every night. Occasionally they stabbed a German bomber.

    Sometimes, they let me sit in the seat and turn the handle that kept the beam on target. It was a lot of fun, but serious too. I had my own battledress and helmet. The battledress was made by my mother.

    I was the only male in a house full of women. My mother, her two guardians (a pair of maiden "aunts" in their late 60s), my baby sister and a nanny: Doreen, a young girl from the village. There was a second villa next to ours, but it was empty for the duration.

    The first exciting surprise was coming home from my day school in Bridport to find the empty villa full of American soldiers with black paint on their faces. There was also a tank at the bottom of the hill of Cliff Road leading to our house. The tank was to stop cars, but as I had a bicycle the tank driver let me through.

    The second surprise was an army officer talking to my mother, the aunts and Doreen. He was standing in the sunroom, which had a view out over the English Channel. The officer said that "something very special" was going to happen. It would take about 10 days. We could stay and watch it but we couldn't use the telephone, or write letters, or go to the village.

    When the aunts said, "What about shopping?" the officer told them the army would do it. He also said that if we did use the telephone or write letters, the army would know and we would have to leave the house and be taken somewhere else until the Very Special Thing was over.

    The aunts said of course they would do their duty. (They used to stand to attention when the wireless played God Save the King or the Hallelujah Chorus.)

    My mother -- who had an American GI boyfriend while the man I thought was my father was away in Ceylon with the Royal Marines -- was cross, and Doreen was frightened because her family wouldn't know why she didn't come back to them on her Saturday afternoon off, but the officer said the army would explain that.

    It was difficult to sleep because of the excitement of having a 10-day special holiday.

    The next morning I got up early and crawled out along my favourite ledge of the crumbling sandstone cliff to try to find an egg in the burrows of the puffins who nested there.

    The U.S. Rangers arrived at that moment. They came out of the sea in an amphibious half-tank, called a DUKW. Then they fired rockets with ropes that went right past my ledge. The ropes had anchors on the ends that dug into the turf on the top of the cliff. Then the Rangers climbed up the ropes. (Forty years later I watched them do it again.You can too if you get a video of John Wayne winning the war in The Longest Day. The footage used in the film was actually shot on my beach. If the camera had been a little to the left you could have seen me on the ledge.)

    At the end of the 10 days, all the American soldiers in the next-door villa and their DUKWs went away.

    I cried a lot because one of the soldiers had a Russian name and sang me songs like The Volga Boatmen. Some of the soldiers used to take out photos of their own children and look at them.

    Then thousands of gliders flew over the minefields behind our house. We heard gunfire all day long.

    That night there was a big storm. A carrier pigeon landed on the ledge of my nursery window. The pigeon had a band on its leg. The same army officer came back the next day and thanked us all for not disobeying the rules, and took away the pigeon.

    He said it was very special too.

    This year in May, I went to see the other side of the English Channel -- the side where they truly did do Something Special. I also went to the farthest southern tip of Sicily, and up through Italy, to a war cemetery at Forli, where the man who my mother later said almost certainly was my real father, lies buried.

    But all that, and the utter solemnity of the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach -- where I had no way of telling how many of those soldiers next door, with their painted black faces, who looked at photos of their children, or sang to me, became names now inscribed in white stone -- all that is part of an adult story.

    After various Blitz, Evacuation and D-Day boyhood adventures, David Gurr emigrated to Victoria in 1948. He served in the Royal Canadian Navy for 17 years, then designed and built West Coast houses before deciding to write novels.

    © Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

    A Flyer's Remembrance: The Beer Run

    On June 13, 1944, (D-Day plus seven) number 412 (Falcon) Squadron, along with the others comprising 126 Wing gathered for a briefing by W/C Keith Hodson at our Tangmere base.

    We would get details of our now regular Beach Patrol activities, only this one had a slight variation.

    The Wingco singled me out to arrange delivery of a sizable shipment of beer to our new airstrip being completed at Beny-sur- Mer.

    The instructions went something like this – "Get a couple other pilots and arrange with the Officers Mess to steam out the jet tanks and load them up with beer. When we get over the beachhead drop out of formation and land on the strip. We're told the Nazis are fouling the drinking water so it will be appreciated."

    "There's no trouble finding the strip, the Battleship Rodney is firing salvoes on Caen and it's immediately below. We'll be flying over at 13,000 so the beer will be cold enough when you arrive."

    I remember getting Murray Haver from Hamilton and a third pilot (whose name escapes me) to carry out the caper.

    In reflection it now seems like an appropriate Air Force gesture for which the erks (infantrymen) would be most appreciative.

    By the time I got down to 5,000 the welcoming from the Rodney was hardly inviting but sure enough there was the strip.

    Wheels down and in we go, three Spits with 90 gallon jet tanks fully loaded with cool beer.

    As I rolled to the end of the mesh runway it was hard to figure . . . there was absolutely no one in sight. What do we do now, I wondered, we can't just sit here and wait for someone to show up. What's with the communications?

    Finally I saw someone peering out at us from behind a tree and I waved frantically to get him out to the aircraft. Sure enough out bounds this army type and he climbs onto the wing with the welcome . . . "What the hell are you doing here?"

    Whereupon he got a short, but nevertheless terse, version of the story.

    "Look," he said "can you see that church steeple at the far end of the strip? Well it's loaded with German snipers and we've been all day trying to clear them out so you better drop your tanks and bugger off before it's too late."

    In moments we were out of there but such was the welcoming for the first Spitfire at our B4 airstrip in Normandy.

    The unbelievable sequel to this story took place in the early 1950s at Ford Motor Company in Windsor where I was employed at the time.

    A chap arrived to discuss some business and enquired if I had been in the Air Force. "Yes, indeed," I responded.

    "Did you by chance land at Beny-sur-Mer in Normandy with two other Spitfires with jet tanks loaded with beer?" he asked.

    "Yes for sure I did," I answered, "But how on earth would you possibly be aware of that?"

    "Well I'll tell you," he said, "I was the guy who climbed on your wing and told you to bugger off."

    We finished the afternoon reminiscing.


    Lest we forget.
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    When I was an Air Cadet back in Victoria, one of our officers was a former RAF wartime photographer. Mr Chapman had been employed with the glider squadrons before their D-Day deployment to take photographs of "What happens inside during landings (and or) crashes". He had some wonderful stories of how things worked or not both with the photo equipment and with himself and the flight crews.


    Glider pilots to be praised on D-Day anniversary

    By Richard Foot, Canwest News Service June 3, 2009

    Sixty-five years ago, Sgt. Jim Wallwork flew his way into history as one of the first Allied soldiers to reach French soil on D-Day.

    Aside from a handful of commandos who were secretly dropped into France to light signal flares for the incoming invasion, Wallwork — who now lives near Vancouver — was at the very tip of General Dwight Eisenhower's "Great Crusade" on June 6, 1944.

    Wallwork piloted the first of six British, troop-carrying gliders into Normandy in the dark opening hours of D-Day, on the famous mission to capture the Pegasus and Horsa bridges, not far from the landing beaches.

    While the glider mission itself is well-known, the bravery of the men who carried it out has been less well remembered. But that's about to change on Saturday — the 65th anniversary of the invasion — when a new monument is unveiled near Pegasus Bridge, inscribed with the names of Wallwork and the 185 other men who carried out the mission, the first time their names have been listed on any of the memorials that dot the Normandy countryside.

    Among those attending the ceremony will be Canadian playwright Michael Bawtree, who has written a vivid new stage drama, The Pegasus Bridge Show, commemorating the daring glider attack.

    Bawtree, a former associate director of Ontario's Stratford Theatre Festival and the founder of Nova Scotia's Atlantic Theatre Festival, was commissioned to write the play last year by a group of British army veterans, keen to keep the history of the glider mission alive.

    Bawtree grew up in England after the war and served as a British army officer in Cyprus in the 1950s, under the command of some of the men who had helped capture the Normandy bridges, and who regaled their younger comrades with the epic tale of the mission.

    "We were brought up on this story in the army," said Bawtree in a recent interview. "We had all these old soldiers' stories from that period, and they were obviously very proud to have been part of it."

    Bawtree's one-man show — which he has personally performed for audiences in Britain, but not so far in Canada — uses verse and music to bring to life what many at the time considered a mad gamble: using slow, wooden gliders, loaded with troops and ammunition, to spearhead the invasion.

    "A suicide mission, staff officers called it," says Bawtree's stage script.

    "To land six, lumbering gliders in darkness/Right next to two bridges each bristling with Germans/And capture them under the enemy's nose?"

    Wallwork himself didn't think it was so crazy when he and his mates in the Glider Pilot Regiment first learned about their mission. Many already had seen combat, as veterans of the earlier, Allied landing in Sicily. Since then, they'd been training hard in England for D-Day, increasingly aware they'd been hand-picked for a critically important piece of the invasion.

    Allied generals were worried that two parallel waterways, the Orne River and the Caen Canal, could tie up the progress of invasion forces moving inland off the beaches on D-Day, particularly if the Germans held onto — or chose to destroy — the bridges across them.

    Those bridges needed to be captured intact ahead of the seaborne landings, but paratroopers were considered unsuitable for the task because no-one could guarantee a sufficient number could be dropped, en-masse, close enough to the bridges.

    Invasion planners said gliders had a better chance of stealthily delivering infantry troops close to the targets. So the night before the invasion, six gliders each carrying 30 troops, took off from Britain and headed across the English Channel, ferried to France by a fleet of Halifax bombers.

    At 6,000 feet, upon reaching the Normandy coast, the gliders unhooked their tow lines and flew toward the landing sites below — guided by a series of precise turns carried out with stopwatches and compass bearings.

    Wallwork was piloting the lead glider with Major John Howard, the mission commander, seated behind him.

    "The men in my glider were singing all the way across the Channel," remembered Wallwork, in an interview from his home in Ladner, B.C. "But as soon as I cast off our tow line, there wasn't a sound. All the soldiers were dead quiet. You could only hear the swish of the wings through the air." {ya no doubt!}

    The crews had been warned to expect "Rommel's asparagus" — German poles linked by metal wires and explosives — strewn about the fields of Normandy. But Wallwork encountered none of this, nor any enemy fire, as he eased his glider down, right on target, into the moonlit shadows of a farmers' field, only a stone's throw from Pegasus Bridge.

    His main worry was getting the aircraft far enough up the field to make room for the other incoming gliders.

    "I had to get well up the field, because my big fear was being rammed up the arse by No. 2 and 3, who were coming in behind me," he says.

    Wallwork lost the nose wheel of his glider and smashed into an embankment at the far end of the airfield, the force of which sent him and his co-pilot careening through the Perspex windows of the cockpit. His co-pilot was knocked out cold with a concussion, and Wallwork had a bloody cut on his head, but everyone else on board was fine.

    The soldiers poured out of the aircraft and went into battle around the bridge, while Wallwork began ferrying ammunition and grenades out from the broken glider to the troops. He remembers making the mistake of turning on a flashlight inside the plane, to look for supplies.

    "Foolishly I turned on the light and as I was looking around, some very unsporting German took a couple of cracks at me — and missed me, thank heavens!"

    Five of the six gliders managed to land safely beside their targets. And after a tense half-hour of hand-to-hand fighting in the German garrisons around the bridges, both were captured and held, and Wallwork and his mates were soon reinforced by paratroopers and later, by the main invasion forces themselves.

    Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, the commander of Allied air forces, would later praise the glider pilots for what he called the finest feat of flying in the entire war.

    Incredibly, only two of the mission's 186 members were killed in the attack on the bridges. "But the sad thing is," says Bawtree, "that within 24 hours, over half of them became casualties in subsequent fighting."

    Wallwork himself was spared the aftermath of the deadly fighting in Normandy. The head wound he'd received during the glider landing was enough to send him back to England. However, he was soon back in Europe flying gliders again — as part of Operation Market Garden, the failed Allied attack on Arnhem, Holland, and in the later airborne assault across the Rhine into Germany.

    Wallwork says he'd met many Canadians during the war, "and liked them," so in 1956 he moved to Canada, and began farming livestock in Ladner, B.C., just outside Vancouver.

    He has a Distinguished Flying Medal for his skill and bravery in Normandy.

    "I was just lucky, for some reason, to have been asked to do this tricky bit of flying on D-Day," says Wallwork, who turns 90 in October. "I'm pleased to have done my bit, and done it successfully."

    © Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

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    My uncle Earl (mom's oldest brother) was part of the 3rd wave on Utah Beach. He was 6' 4" tall and about 250lbs., very tall and very well built. He was an infantryman but I forget his unit right now (I know, shame on me) After they got to Bastone, he got wounded twice but didn't want to leave his unit so he didn't report it. He went for two weeks with a bullet hole in his calf muscle where it went clean through the meat and another large graze on his left hip. He was a man of few words and would only talk about the war when he was drunk, and even then talked very little. He would only tell me how the food was so awesome in France or how the weather sucked, or how he and another guy got caught stealing pies from the window sill at a house where a woman who chased them down the road yelling at them, he ended up dropping his pie anyway. He smoked Paul Mall filterless cigarettes down to a stub, his fingers were yellow. Later in the war he was in Japan after the nukes were dropped. He had a bunch of pictures taken after the bomb in Hiroshima. They are absolutely amazing!! He was an amazing man and even though he died when I was in high school, I still got to talk to him about some of the stuff. I can't imagine what he saw or went through.

    When they were making Saving Private Ryan, he was invited to a special showing of it by the the film makers. They wanted to show a bunch of vets first for accuracy. He said it basically was the way it was except for two things. One- the water didn't run red with blood, he said there was so many bodies on the beach you couldn't see blood run in the sand, you couldn't see sand! Two- they just couldn't do justice for the beautiful buildings and architecture there. Everything seemed so old and pretty there he said.
    Last edited by Dickey; 06-06-2009 at 04:05 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dickey View Post
    When they were making Saving Private Ryan, he was invited to a special showing of it by the the film makers. They wanted to show a bunch of vets first for accuracy. He said it basically was the way it was except for two things. One- the water didn't run red with blood, he said there was so many bodies on the beach you couldn't see blood run in the sand, you couldn't see sand! Two- they just couldn't do justice for the beautiful buildings and architecture there. Everything seemed so old and pretty there he said.
    I spoke with a WW II vet who landed at Normandy (on day 2) and then pushed inland. He also liked the movie. He didn't comment on the opening scene since he wasn't part of it. He thought one of the accurate parts of the movie was the depiction of dead cows. They were everywhere. That was what he remembered as they made the push across France.

    He rarely spoke about the fighting. And when he did it was very short and clipped sentences. I worked with a lot of Vietnam vets during my career, and they were the same.
    Politics is like driving. To go forward select "D", to go backward select "R."

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    A lad who would have been my uncle and his best friend signed up the same day, went through training and deployment together and were in the initial wave on Juno Beach. They were killed within hours of each other and lay in France to this day. Neither ever saw 20 years.
    One helluva lot of brave lads from many countries gave their all so we can sit in comfort here today.
    We Will Remember

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    My Mom's Dad went to England and later Europe. He originally trained as artillery, then transferred to infantry when the airborne divisions were created and did his jump training. When they were selecting for Normandy he was pulled off the line because his eyesight was not a full 20/20. After that he transferred to the Army Service Corps and trained as a mechanic, he was sent to France as part of the "clean up" crews.

    No one in the family is really sure what he did there, other than he saw some of the death camps. During my life with him, he never spoke much about his service time, other than the stories that happened between training in Canada and England.

    I joined the service two years before he passed away, but I never asked about his service. Not sure if it was a lack of courage to ask or being respectful, but there have been many times since that I've wished I could have asked. We talked a lot about the comparable experiences of volunteering (as we both had) and about boot camp etc. Its kind of funny maybe but even though I had been to Cyprus (the year before he passed away) and seen what warfighting can do, I dont think we ever really talked about that either.

    Time to Splice The Main Brace in honour and in rememberance.

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    Alberta, Saskatchewan get snow in June

    By Kerry Benjoe, Jamie Komarnicki and Sarah McGinnis, Calgary HeraldJune 6, 2009

    Ah June, when the long sunny days bring thoughts of swimming holes, tents and — toboggans?

    Yes, snow has fallen in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan this weekend.

    Bundled in a long coat and mittens to ward of the cold, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s wife, Laureen, led an annual parade in Diamond Valley, Alta., on Saturday, undeterred by the snowfall around her.

    “It’s lovely to be home,” said Harper, who grew up in the area. “I love it, no matter what the weather is.”

    In Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, which straddles the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, forecasters reported a heavy snowfall.

    “We had a report from the park there was 15 centimetres on the ground and still snowing heavily,” said Dan Fulton with Environment Canada.

    “We will be expecting total snow there of about 20 or maybe even 25 centimetres (Saturday) in the park.”

    About an hour away, Alan Liu of Maple Creek, Sask., was working at a cafe. He said one thing he definitely didn’t expect to see in the first week of June was flakes falling.

    “It’s not too good because the snow is very heavy. There are big flakes coming down,” said Liu.

    “There’s quite a bit (of snow) on the ground, but out the temperature is about 1 C,” he said, adding much of the snow was melting as soon as it landed.

    Liu said the good thing about the snow was that it was supplying some much needed moisture for farmers in the area.

    “I did talk to a farmer this morning he was worried that it would get too cold and (may) damage his crop,” said Liu.

    The snow was a blessing to firefighters battling to keep blazes from claiming park forests in Alberta, said Rob Harris, a wildfire information officer.

    “It’s brought the fire hazard down to the level where it’s considered low or moderate across most areas of Alberta’s forests. So that’s great news for our forest fire situation,” Harris said.

    The fire hazard had been starting to creep up in central and southern Alberta earlier this week. And conditions were right for teams to light some prescribed fires earlier this week. “Now those fires are sitting under snow,” Harris said.

    The Environment Canada forecaster, meanwhile, explained that the cool weather was caused by a big storm that started in Alberta.

    In Calgary, where the high for Saturday was 7 C — well below seasonal norms — much of the snow melted on contact with pavement.

    But blankets of white could be seen sticking around longer in some neighbourhoods particularly on the city’s western edges.

    Records reveal that snow in June is rare for the region but does happen.

    On June 6, 1951, Calgarians were digging out from under 24.9 cm, according to Environment Canada.

    The high for Regina Saturday was 11 C and 8 C on Sunday — well below the seasonal high of 22 C.

    The cool weather was expected to linger.

    Regina Leader-Post, Calgary Herald © Copyright (c) Canwest News Service


    Seamen Keith Scott, Bill Buchanan and Gordon Rowan are caught hiding from the hail during the Military Museums Royal Tea Party for 600 Veterans and supporters on the 65th anniversary of D-Day Photograph by: Christina Ryan, Calgary Herald
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