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72nd Anniversary of D-Day

In honour of the recent anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy, this weeks post looks at some of those who died in its preparation - giving their lives for their country.
Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Division move inland from Sword Beach on the Normandy coast, 6 June 1944. Royal Marine Commandos attached to 3rd Division for the assault on Sword Beach move inland, 6 June 1944. A Churchill bridgelayer can be seen in the background. (IWM Non-commercial Licence)

Last week, surviving veterans and the families of those who have died travelled to France for the annual D-Day commemorations. It is now 72 years since that fateful day, 6th June 1944, when Allied forces invaded Normandy in Operation Overlord - the allied invasion of north-west Europe. The assault phase of the operation, Operation Neptune, was the largest seaborne invasion in history. The successful attack on German-occupied western Europe would lead, eventually, to Allied victory in May 1945.

156,000 troops jumped from ships straight into enemy gunfire on the Norman beaches. Of these, 73,000 were American, 61,715 were British and 21,400 were Canadian. Supporting the troops in the air were thousands of aircraft and gliders. Although no official number of Allied casualties from D-Day has ever been confirmed, it is estimated that over 3,000 Allied troops fell on D-Day itself. There were over 10,000 casualties. Operation Overlord ended on 30 June 1944. By the end of the Battle of Normandy, 17, 769 British were buried in twenty-seven war cemeteries in France. More than one thousand of those who were killed on the 6th are either buried or commemorated in France.

Preparation for D-Day also cost lives. American, Canadian, Polish and British troops were based around the UK training and waiting for the offensive to begin. In this period, Allied air forces lost nearly 12,000 men in over 2,000 aircraft.

Camberwell New Cemetery (Wikimedia Commons/ Philip Talmage)
We know little about the war experience of Air Mechanic (2nd Class) George Henry Harrison (FX591664), other than that he served in the Royal Navy and died on the 6th June, aged just 19 years old. Air Mechanic Harrison was buried in a private grave in Camberwell New Cemetery in the London Borough of Southwark and the burial details can be found in the Deceased Online database.

Page from the Camberwell New Cemetery burial register showing the entry for George Henry Harrison in June 1944

Buried alongside him in grave reference square 91, grave 8032 are Charles David Howes, Jack Rogers, William Alfred Foot, and James Roe. Their names are found on panel 6 of the screen wall.

Charles David Howes was a 19 year old Sergeant in the RAF when he died on 27th May 1944.

33 year old Jack Rogers was serving with the Royal Artillery at the time of his death on the 19th May 1944.

21 year old Lance Serjeant William Alfred Foot was also serving with the Royal Artillery when he died on the 29th March 1944.

D-Day was a major turning point in the war. All those who participated on the day or trained as part of it preparation contributed to the Liberation of France on the 25th August 1944. This, in turn, prevented Germany from continuing to exploit France's economic and people resources. Allied troops and aircraft seized or destroyed U-boat ports, V-weapon sites and much of Germany's air defence network. Not only did this reduce the number of attacks on mainland Britain but it also weakened the resolve of the German High Command. Thanks to D-Day, most leading Nazis knew that they were destined for defeat.

Although most of the casualties of D-Day and Operation Overlord lie in foreign fields, we should also remember those who lie in (or are commemorated in) British cemeteries. They may not have lived long enough to participate on the 6th June, but their contribution to the day should not be forgotten.

Did any of your relatives serve on D-Day or were they killed during the preparation process? We would love to hear your family stories of Operation Overlord, whether your ancestors were from the UK, America, Canada, Poland or elsewhere. Please contact us via our Twitter or Facebook portals, or write to us in the Comments Box below!


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