Today, we mark the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Europe and remember the sacrifices of those who fought and died for our freedom.
The D-Day Landings were the assault phase of Operation Overlord, and were code-named Operation Neptune. Originally planned to start on 1 May 1944, the Landings were postponed by a month to allow extra time for the Allies to gather more equipment and troops. The timing of the invasion was crucial and was put back once again because of bad weather, before officially beginning on 6 June. The invasion took the Germans by surprise, and the Allied Royal Navy Commander, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, said there were no enemy planes out and the opposition of coastal batteries was much less than expected.
Operation Neptune was the largest seaborne invasion in history, with more than 156,000 Allied troops involved in the storming of the beaches. King George VI broadcast a message to the country warning of the supreme test that the Allies faced and called on the nation to pray for the liberation of Europe. President Roosevelt told Americans at a news conference that the invasion did not mean that the war was over, adding:
“You don’t just walk to Berlin, and the sooner the country realises that the better.”
One man that has memories of D-Day is Louis Pengelly-Phillips, who is a resident at our Surbiton Home and has been living with us since 1980. Louis enlisted with the Royal Marines in 1943 (at the age of 17) and in the same year was selected to join a unit protecting Winston Churchill and the D-Day Plans during the Quebec Conference in Canada. Louis was assigned to guard Churchill, for whom he had to present arms or would have been in trouble, even when Churchill was in his pyjamas!
Back in England, Churchill personally thanked Louis for looking after him and gave him a medal, which he still has today. Louis is one of only 35 people to have received the Italy Medal, despite never actually going there himself! After his brief time back in England, Louis underwent training with 48 Commando Royal Marines and was in the first wave of men sent ashore at Gold Beach during D-Day.
“My best mate Saunders – he got killed. Actually I was lucky, because when I was landing, a bullet ricocheted off my tin hat.”
Louis was very proud to have been in the Royal Marines.
Reports vary but according to The US National D-Day Foundation more than 4,400 Allied soldiers lost their lives during the first day of the D-Day Landings. This figure only includes the troops who landed on the beach. The figure for German casualties is also unknown but is estimated to be between 4,000 and 9,000 soldiers. The complete figure for loss of life may never be known but what should never be forgotten is the sacrifices of those who fought and died for the freedom that we take for granted today.
Sadly, Louis Pengelly-Phillips passed away on the 24th June after this post was made live. Louis was a much-loved resident and was very proud of his military history. We feel honoured to have been able to care for Louis for 34 years.
Peter Macdiarmid and Jim Powell. (2014). D-day landings scenes in 1944 and now – interactive. Available: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/ng-interactive/2014/jun/01/d-day-landings-scenes-in-1944-and-now-interactive. Last accessed 30th May 2018.
Portsmouth Museum Services. (unknown). D-Day and the Battle of Normandy: Your Questions Answered. Available: https://theddaystory.com/discover/what-is-d-day/. Last accessed 30th May 2018.
Unknown. (unknown). 1944: D-Day marks start of Europe invasion. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/6/newsid_3499000/3499352.stm. Last accessed 30th May 2018.