And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

6 June

1920
Earl Mountbatten of Burma,
sailor and viceroy

‘At Government House [Melbourne] two or three girls were invited to dine and later on the Fairbairn party joined up, so that another small Sunday dance could be held in the ballroom to the accompaniment of the pianola. The cook’s pram, which was wheeled in at half time, suffered considerably, for the Captain insisted upon wheeling H.R.H. down the length of the ballroom at breakneck speed, turning round so sharply at the end that he spilled him out and damaged the pram considerably. Unfortunately the cushions fell out as well and next minute a rugger scrum had been formed and a good game was soon in full swing which lasted until the insides of the cushions were flying in all directions, giving the room a very debauched appearance. Everyone retired to bed before midnight.’

Mountbatten - young and lighthearted

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1944
Harold Nicolson,
politician and writer

‘I can now say (having passed through the censorship ban) that at Hatston aerodrome yesterday, about an hour before I left, a tremor passed through ward-room. ‘Panic stations order’, was the word passed around. A sense of imminence affected the whole place.

I typed this diary in my sleeper and then went to bed. I did not sleep well as I was cold. The train arrived at 7.35 and I drove straight to [King’s Bench Walk, his chambers in the Temple], missing the 8am news owing to a sudden short-circuit of the light. This was at once put right. I then turned on the 9am news in the General Forces Programme, and heard to my excitement the following announcement: ‘The German Overseas News has just put out the following flash: “Early this morning, the expected Anglo-American invasion began when airborne forces were landed in the Seine estuary.” ’ I then wait till a later flash which says, ‘The combined landing operations comprised the whole area between Havre and Cherbourg, the main centre of attack being the Caen area.’ [. . .]

I go down to the House, arriving there about ten to twelve. When I enter the Chamber, I find a buzz of conversation going on. Questions has ended unexpectedly early and people were just sitting there chatting, waiting for Winston. It was an unusual scene. He entered the Chamber at three minutes to twelve. He looked as white as a sheet. The House notice this at once, and we feared that he was about to announce some terrible disaster. He is called immediately, and places two separate fids of typescript on the table. He begins with the first, [. . .] He then picks up the other fid of notes and begins, ‘I have also to announce to the House that during the night and early hours of this morning, the first of a series of landings in force upon the Continent of Europe has taken place . . .’ The House listens in hushed awe. He speaks for only seven minutes. [. . .]

I lunch at the Beefsteak and then go down to Sissinghurst. There is a an elaborate B.B.C. news programme and Howard Marshall gives a good account of the landings on the coast. The general impression is the ferrying across the Channel was marvellously successful; that the beach obstacles were not as severe as foreseen and that the Germans were not as numerous; that we have played the first trick better than could have been hoped. But people know very well that the hard test is still to come and that no jubilation of any kind can be permitted for several days.

During the night aeroplanes roar over the house carrying lights. They never stop. Neither Viti nor Mrs Staples nor Jo sleep a wink.’

Operation Neptune

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1944
Anne Frank,
young woman

‘The invasion has begun! According to the German news, British parachute troops have landed on the French coast. British landing craft are in battle with the German Navy, says the BBC. Great commotion in the Secret Annexe! Would the long-awaited liberation that has been talked of so much but which still seems too wonderful, too much like a fairy-tale, ever come true? Could we be granted victory this year, 1944? We don't know yet, but hope is revived within us; it gives us fresh courage, and makes us strong again.’

Operation Neptune

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1944
Walter E. Marchand,
surgeon

‘D day is here! - D day has begun, how will it end? We are now close to the German held coast of France - all is unbelievably quiet, but it isn’t for long. At about 1 A.M. I hear a low sounding drone - I go on deck and here I see plane upon plane flying over our ship toward the hostile shore, towing gliders - these are the Paratroopers and Airborne Infantry - I wish them God’s speed and wish them well, for as I am watching the first planes are over the Atlantic Wall I see tremendous flares go up and great quantity of anti-aircraft fire and flak. God what great numbers of planes there are, and all ours. To our right - toward the Barfleur Peninsula area our Bombers are wreaking havoc on some coastal installations, we can hear the detonations clearly. In the midst of this, the little Cavalry C.T. is preparing to debark and to take St. Marcouf island - this is at H minus 4 hours. At this time also, the C47s are returning from France - flying home after letting go of their gliders or human cargo.

Had very early breakfast - then lay on my bunk for a while - I couldn’t sleep and I can’t sleep - I keep thinking of my wife and my family - I love you my Corinne.

At 0400 the first wave of our Assault Battalion is called to stand-by to load into the boats - there is a great hum of activity throughout the ship. The Captain speaks - our LCM3’s haven’t come yet, but there is still plenty of time. We wait for 20, 40, 55 minutes. Then they come out of the dawn alongside - still enough time to make the H hour landing, for H hour has been upped because of the heavy seas. The LCM3’s are having great difficulty tieing up to the boat - they toss around like corks - but the landing nets are overside and the troops make their way down - but with great difficulty. Often large hausers, 2 inch thick, would snap like a thread and often the man climbing down would be thrown into the small boats. It was especially difficult to get the vehicles overboard into the small boats. “Man overboard” was heard once - a British sailor was knocked overboard but rescued.

First wave - Away, then the second, then the third, then it was my turn to get into my boat with 5 of my men and part of the Battalion Command section - it took long, the boat crashed against the ship time and time again, bending the ramp, and tearing loose, snapping the hausers. Finally we are all in our boat with our equipment, and the men are getting seasick, and they huddle together toward the rear of the boat. I stay near the front of the boat, getting sprayed continuously and I look about me and see hundreds upon hundreds of boats, from the little LCVP’s, LCM’s, LCT’s and LCI’s, to the huge battleships and cruisers, and smoke is billowing from their deck guns, for this is H-40 min. and the Naval barrage starts then, the fire directed against enemy shore installations. Our wave has now formed and we are heading toward shore 7 miles away through rough waters, while on the way in our Dive bombers get to work, pouring tons of bombs against the enemy fortresses.

We are getting close to shore and the boats of our wave go from a line in file to a line abreast formation and speed for shore. I can now hear cannon fire clearly as well as machine gun fire. We all pray that our boat will not strike a mine or an underwater obstacle or get hit by a shell from a coastal battery. All sounds become closer, when about 50 yds. From shore I see 2 splashes on our port bow - enemy fire. The boats streak for shore and hit the beach and we almost make a dry landing - we only have to wade knee deep thru about 20 yds. of water. As we hit, the ramp goes down and we debark - wade in the water, then on hitting dry land start to run. I see dead Americans floating in the water - a ghastly sight. I get my men together and we run up across the beach to a concrete wall, faced with barbed wire and bearing signs.

There are many wounded lying about and we start to care for them, and carry some to the Naval Beach Party Aid Station which just landed after us. I try to orient myself, but we landed at a different place than was originally planned. Enemy fire is increasing, landing just to our left, from our right there is machinegun fire. I have only 1 choice I lead the men thru a break in the barbed wire into the Mine Field and we go in about 50 yds. - enemy fire increases, we dig in hurriedly to rest - we are all exhausted from the fear which we all know as shells come whistling overhead and landing close by. But we must get out of the Mine Field! - I find a path to the right and we start along it, seeing mines all around us - and then the path disappears and we turn back to our former spot - from there we find a small path to the left and we follow it - we see wounded about us and we care for them, carrying some along with us on litters, and the small path leads us to a road and we follow it to the first right turn and we follow it.

Troops and vehicles are now storming ashore in great quantities - some vehicles are hit and burst into flames. We pass burning houses and many dead German and American soldiers. It is now noon - God the 5 hours passed like lightning. At 1300 we come to the “Old French Fort”, now we are close to where originally we were supposed to land. I scout ahead and find my Battalion just 300 yds. up the road, so I and Capt. Scott set up our Aid Station off the side of the road in a large hole and crater made by a 14 inch Naval shell - 12 feet by 5 feet and about 6 feet deep. By this time one of our Jeep ambulances has reached us and we are ready to function as an Aid station. We send out litter bearer groups into the mine fields to pick up casualties. This is ticklish work, but the boys are excellent soldiers and go bravely although they have no paths to follow.

Our ambulance Jeep works up forward and brings back casualties - some are Paratroopers that are pretty well beaten up, having been wounded shortly after landing. We work from this spot for 2 hours and then we move forward to the Command Post which is along the side of a road near Fortress 74 which is still holding out. Shortly after arriving here, machine gun fire becomes active and we have to duck low - pinned down here for 5 hours, could watch the attack on the fortress and the surrender of the Germans. Our boys are doing a splendid job and very few casualties so far. As the sun is setting we note hundreds of C47’s again - more Airborne Infantry landing - They swoop inland and let go of their gliders, to come swooping back. Liason Sgt., from Co. C shot in the leg while lying on the road beside Capt. Scott.

Toward dark a few serious casualties encountered - difficulty of evacuating great - Plasma given right in open. Difficulty in finding path thru mine field to farm house where we will stay for the night - had to cross tank traps filled with water and lined with mines - ticklish business in the dark.

Finally we got all of Aid station together - we were all exhausted - and were so tired that we just fell down and fell asleep - with artillery, mainly enemy, going overhead, most of it, fortunately for us being directed toward the beach.

This is the end of D day - it was hectic from the start - but we had few casualties, and those mainly from mines, which were numerous. Heavy machinegun fire heard all night.’

Operation Neptune

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1944
Sidney J. Montz,
soldier

‘2400 - Eating a good meal, may be the last boat team. Sea very rough. Started loading one, went down to compartment with my men about 0230, went over side, down net + it was really tough. Took off to rendezvous area, had a tough time finding it, made it o.k. Started circling, finally the other boats came in. Planes lit up the beaches, AA fire starting, flares dropping, beautiful sight but it scares the hell out of you. All hell broke loose from the beach, some boats hit by 88. We are near beach + 88 opened up on the boat on our right + almost hit us. Some boats hit land mines, lucky we landed because much more we would have sunk - water still rough. Jumped out in waist deep water, about 500 or 600 yds from seawall, the longest I have ever seen in my life. M.G., mortar, + artillery fire around us.

Finally in shallow water + able to run, had to miss all types of obstacles in + out the water. Picked up six rounds of 81mm ammo on the way, it seemed as though we would never reach the seawall. Men being blown up and hit all around me, you could hear them scream, it was horrible. Finally hit seawall, stopped to get a blow and bearing, Gen. Roosevelt walking around telling everyone to clear the beach or they would get killed. Rockets hit the third section [. . .] Time to move or they will kill us all. Gen. Roosevelt gave me lots of courage. Under small arms + artillery fire. Navy left us 1000 yds. too far left, the left outfit caught hell. Moved in very fast, every house + tree loaded with men, they fire at you from all directions, very hard to see them as they use smokeless powder. Will get on to them soon then they will catch hell.’

Operation Neptune

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1944
May Hill,
housewife

‘So, at last the long-talked of Second Front has begun. I have not even given it a new page and that seems a fitting symbol of how it appears to me. What excitement there may be in towns or elsewhere, in the country does not seem to have touched us here. It is just an ordinary day, after nearly 5 years of war it takes a lot to make us demonstrative. I went on with my ordinary work and made my first toy for sale, a white duck with green wings and yellow beak and feet. It is for Mrs Russell to give to a baby friend. I must make the rabbit for Emmie next and try to send an extra one too. Ciss cleaned her pantry and Rene washed. Jean went to school, indeed she had gone before the announcement.

4000 ships and a great many smaller craft crossed the channel. Great air-liners took air-borne troops behind the German lines. Montgomery is speaking now, a message to the troops of which he is the head. Now a service. Almost 10 o’ clock. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken and now they are singing “Oh God, our help in ages past.” At nine o’clock the King broadcast a call to prayer, not just one day but all the days of crisis. In the news afterwards we heard that all was still going well in France. I fear the “little people” like us would not just go on with this ordinary work. However pleased they may be at the thought of deliverance, at present it means danger and hardship and war. Many will have to leave their homes and many I fear will lose their lives. The service is over, a beautiful service, ending with the hymn, “Soldiers of Christ Arise.”

We are in bed. A motor cycle has just gone by and a swiftly moving plane. Percy was with Home Guards last night. I am pleased he is at home next door tonight. God be with us all those whose sons or husbands or other dear ones have already fallen in this new front. Be with the wounded and comfort the dying and those who are afraid. We had 12 letters from Ron to-day - a record. I had 6, the others 3 each. In the most recent one, only a week since he wrote it, an air mail letter, he says his hopes of return are practically nil. I am almost pleased much as I long to see him but somehow he seems safer there at present. I must try to sleep now. The longed for D-Day has arrived. Deliverance Day, Jean says it means.’

Operation Neptune

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1981
Arseny Tarkovsky,
writer

‘Father rang. He is in Moscow, and Tyapa and I are going to see him tomorrow. Just like me (or rather, the other way round) he has those spasms in the head which stop him seeing properly. Does that mean it is hereditary?’

Tarkovsky father and son

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