Aldershot Remembers: 80th Anniversary of D-Day

This morning, Club Chairman, Shahid Azeem, and Shots Foundation Trustee, Kay Khan, were present at the 80th anniversary of D-Day commemoration at Rushmoor Council Offices.

As Aldershot’s football club, we are immensely proud of the military heritage of our town and the sacrifice that will have been made by those from our town 80 years ago today.

We will always remember them.

Paul Vickers of ‘Friends of the Aldershot Military Museum’ has supplied us with the following information surrounding Aldershot’s involvement in the D-Day proceedings, 80 years ago.

Today all over the country and on the Normandy beaches there are commemorations of Operation Overlord, honoring the many thousands of men who were involved and those who died during this historic struggle. Let us take a few moments to remember the part played by Rushmoor in the success of D-Day and the Normandy campaign.

In the spring of 1944 Aldershot garrison was one of the concentration centers for both the British and Canadian forces in the build-up for 0-Day. As the date of the invasion grew closer the whole local area was a hive of activity.

In the garrison every open space was packed with vehicles. Along Queen’s Avenue trucks were parked under the trees and on the grass verges, Queen’s Parade was full of transporters, lorries and motor-bikes, and the parade grounds in the barracks were crammed with vehicles and equipment. The 9th Royal Tank Regiment was in Lille Barracks and had its Churchill tanks lined up along Lynchford Road, while to the south, the Hog’s Back was lined for five miles with tanks direct from the factories.

The tanks were sealed to make them waterproof for the landings, and for testing they were driven through Farnborough and Cove to Hawley Lake. With so many vehicles making this trip the road surfaces were repeatedly badly damaged by the tank tracks, and were constantly having to be repaired.

In the towns there were queues for the theatres and cinemas, the buses and trains, and of course the pubs were packed. Sheila Clapperton, a telegraphist in the old General Post Office, recalled “as D-Day approached the town was full of men and vehicles, and one Saturday night our civilian dance hall was suddenly besieged by men in khaki … I often think that Saturday dance was rather like the ball held before Waterloo.”

Military activity reached a peak on the 3rd and 4th of June, when the units departed for the embarkation ports on the south coast. For two days there was nothing but movement and the roar of engines. Then all was empty and silent, and local people said that it was like a ghost town.

Raymond Gibben of Farnborough remembered thinking to himself: “Oh my goodness, that’s it”.

The soldiers from Aldershot joined thousands of others assembling on the south coast. On the morning of 6 June the huge assault force landed in Normandy, British forces on beaches code named Gold and Sword, Canadians on Juno beach, and the American forces on Omaha and Utah beaches.

The first intimation for local residents that the invasion was underway was on the morning of D-Day when they witnessed the awesome sight of an aerial armada passing directly overhead. For 18 hours from early morning until late at night there was a continual stream of Dakota aircraft, Halifax, and Stirling bombers towing gliders, and they knew that the troops were being dropped across the channel, and the invasion was underway.

After that came another period of unnatural quiet, until on D-Day plus three casualties started to arrive from the bitter fighting in France. These were treated in the two great local military hospitals, the Cambridge and the Connaught. As soon as the allied forces had established themselves in Normandy a system for the rapid air evacuation of wounded was in operation. From the battlefield casualties were given first-aid to stop the bleeding and evacuated to an airfield where they were put onto aircraft to be brought back to Britain. There was a steady circuit of Dakotas from France to Farnborough airport, and from Farnborough there was a circle of ambulances to the hospitals.

A casualty could reach the hospital as quickly as two hours after being picked up on the battlefield, so the receipt of medical attention was extremely rapid. Hospital staff, receiving up to 100 casualties an hour, worked to the point of exhaustion, but many lives were saved by the fast and effective care they received.

To give an idea of the sacrifice made by local men, of the names on the Aldershot Second World War Memorial in Princes Way, 22 died in Normandy between D-Day and the crossing of the Seine at the end of August. Of these Private Horace John Lanning, of the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, was killed on D-Day itself. He was aged just 19.

D-Day was not the end of the war, and there were to be many months of hard and bitter fighting ahead. However, the D-Day landings were on an unprecedented scale and their success, brought about by meticulous planning and the courage and fighting abilities of the soldiers involved, marked a decisive turning point in the war. In this, as in so many aspects of Britain’s military history, Rushmoor played its part, and we can reflect with pride on our local contribution to this great enterprise.