This time 70 years ago something momentous was happening in Britain; everyone was getting ready for the biggest seaborne invasion of all time. On June the 6th 1944, in World War II, the allied forces invaded Normandy and started to push the Germans back. It is thought that this day, D-day, was the turning point in the second world war which eventually led to victory for the allied forces.
D-day really means ‘the day’. There was a countdown; D minus 2, D minus 1, so D-day was the day for the invasion to happen. The invasion itself was called Operation Overlord.
The South of England must have been like a huge army camp with soldiers from many allied nations including Britian, America and Canada waiting for the start of the big invasion of German occupied Europe. Many months of planning included inventing new kinds of landing crafts, building floating harbours, building underwater fuel lines, and bringing hundreds of thousands of soldiers to the South Coast of Britain. There were also amazing plots to mislead the Germans, making them think that the invasion would happen on a different part of the French coast.
The night before D-Day, the assault on Normandy started, with planes bombarding the coast with thousands of bombs. Next the paratroopers were sent in under cover of darkness to secure some strategic bridges and protect the flanks for the troops arriving the following day by sea. It is easy to imagine how terrifying it must have been to be parachuted into enemy territory at night. Have a look at the BBC site for an animated map of attack!
The next day thousands of boats brought 160,000 soldiers across the English channel where they landed on several different beaches. Men had to jump out of the boats and wade into the sea to get onto the beach. Some of the beaches were heavily defended by German machine guns and many men were killed and injured.
Despite these losses, the invasion on D-day did manage to give the Allied forces a foothold in Europe. After that day they could brought more men and supplies over safely and started to push the Germans back to eventually win the war in 1945.
What is significant about this 70th anniversary of D-Day is that people still remember D-day, either because they were there, or because they heard about it. In another 30 years on the 100th anniversary it is very unlikely that any eyewitnesses will still be around. So now is the time to ask people what they can remember about D-Day and life during the Second World War. Ask your grandparents, great-grandparents or friends who would have been around back then. Ask them what they were doing on D-Day, did they know anyone in the invasion forces? What did they do during the war? Almost everyone will have fascinating stories to tell.
My own children have heard stories from one granny who was evacuated to the countryside during the war. The other granny told us about her brother who ran away to the army to enlist as a paratrooper at the age of 16, and her mother who would pace the floors at night worrying about him! One great-grandad was given a medal for working in the minesweeper boats, another was a blackout warden.
If you can’t find anyone who can tell you about D-day, you could try listening to some of these eyewitness accounts.
There are also some fantastic books for older children to read set in the second world war. These have been some of our favourites;
- Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden
- Machine Gunners by Robert Westall
- Time Train to the Blitz by Sophie McKenzie
- My Friend the Enemy by Dan Smith (at the end of which I disgraced myself by crying in front of the kids while reading it out loud)
- D-Day, My Story by Bryan Perrett
- Second World War, Usborne sticker dressing book
And if you are ever in North Yorkshire then try and make it to Eden Camp; a World War II museum set in an old prisoner of war camp. It is brilliant for children, with plenty to touch, see and hear, and it is very interactive. The wartime cafe and adventure playground also make it fantastic day out.