I found Friday’s remembrances of the 70th anniversary of D-Day very moving, but perhaps for many of us the story that stood out was the journey 89 year-old Bernard Jordan took from his care home in Hove to join his colleagues in France. It’s already been nicknamed The Great Escape, and I’m sure within a few weeks there will be a film in the pipeline.
Quite rightly, the emphasis this weekend was on the veterans and thousands upon thousands of young men who died on those beaches and in the months following the invasion. But it got me to wondering about the news the British people received, listening to the radio or reading the papers to find out what was happening to their loved ones.
Once again, I turned to The Glasgow Herald of June 7th, 1944 for some insights and gathered together a collection of tidbits that appealed to me.
Whereas other papers’ headlines screamed Invasion, with only 8 pages available (because of paper rationing) The Glasgow Herald wasted little space on pictures and remained as understated as ever. On the front page were the usual blackout times (Glasgow 11.57pm until 4.34am) and notifications of births, marriages and deaths. The current entertainment available at the city’s theatres was listed (including the Half-Past Eight Show mentioned in last week’s blog) as well as a programme of musical concerts in city parks.
But the Invasion did make its presence known on the front page with notices from city churches informing the faithful of special prayers and services for ‘our King and County and Allies and for the Forces now invading Europe’. Glasgow Cathedral offered two services at noon and 3pm for ‘those engaged in the Second Front Operation’.
The Late News column referenced a German report which talked of ‘grim fighting’ between Havre and Cherbourg being the ‘bloodiest of the day’ with several hundred Canadian paratroopers wiped out or forced to surrender.
German Overseas Radio denied any fighting in Caen. ‘Mr Churchill’s reference about fighting in Caen is untrue. No enemy troops have penetrated into the city, therefore no fighting has taken place in Caen.’
Page two carried the Colonial Secretary being forced to deny a ‘silly and harmful story’ which had had much circulation, particularly in America, to the effect that America was being charged for every palm tree they destroyed in battles for the recovery of British possessions.
When talking about the history of invasion in Europe, one columnist pointed out that Caen had been the HQ of William The Conqueror before he turned his sights on England in 1066.
Eisenhower apparently carried seven old coins in his pocket – one being an ancient five guinea piece. He is said to have given these mascots a rub before the Italian invasion and everyone hoped that the mascots would do as good a job again.
Regarding the Invasion of Italy and France, it had been decided by Roosevelt and Churchill at the Casablanca Conference in 1943 that an invasion of the west would be deferred until the Allies had cleared the Mediterranean and knocked out Italy.
Page 3 contained Scottish news with detailed Invasion news starting on page 4.
The Invasion was originally scheduled for Monday June 5th, but postponed for 24 hours because of bad weather.
German Radio admitted the Allies had a foothold 10-15 miles long and nearly a mile deep in France.
Allied landings also took place on Guernsey and Jersey in the Channel Islands.
Hitler was reported to have taken charge of the military response to the invasion.
Between midnight and 8am on June 6th, an estimated 31,000 Allied airmen flew over France. 1,300 Fortresses and Liberators began their attack at 6am ending at 8.30am.
Priority was being given for troops’ mail so that both the men in the front line and their relatives and friends at home should receive regular deliveries of letters.
One hour before they left for the beaches, the troops enjoyed a meal of pork chops and plum duff. Each solder was then given a ‘landing ration’ – a bag of chocolate and biscuits and cigarettes for ‘consumption while waiting’.
Civilian workmen and villagers who had seen anything of the preparations at an American airfield were detained in the camp by the authorities for 48 hours until news of the landings were released.
125,000,000 maps were used by the US invasion forces.
Eisenhower broadcast a Call to the People of Europe: The hour of your liberation is approaching. All patriots, men and women, young and old, have a part to play in the achievement of final victory.
General Montgomery wished the troops ‘Good Hunting in Europe’.
And then, on pages 7 and 8 it was back to normal with commodity markets, situations vacant, property, livestock and farms for sale. A five-room terraced house with kitchen and scullery could be bought for 800 pounds. So much for the biggest invasion force the world had ever seen.
If you ever get the opportunity to watch the film The Longest Day, I highly recommend it. It’s a comprehensive view of the events of June 6th, 1944 from all sides involved.