- 6th June 1944 -
Two stories. One known the world over, one less so. The first story is well known 71 years on. At 6.30am 156,000 Allied troops landed on 5 beaches along a 50 mile stretch of Normandy beach, codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword and Juno – names that will forever be remembered – in operation Neptune, the initial phase of Operation Overlord, or D-Day. By dawn the same day paratroopers and troops dropped from gliders had already landed to secure bridges and roads. Glider pilots had landed within twenty metres of their targets in darkness behind enemy lines in an area unknown to them in what General Dwight Eisenhower claimed was one of the most extraordinary feats of the war. Operation Overlord, the scheme to get the Allies back into Europe and push the German forces back to Berlin had begun.
Three days later another phase was underway. To support these troops more men, machines and supplies were needed to be transported across the channel to Normandy. The problem was that the ports needed to be able to carry this out were too heavily defended. An earlier attack on Dieppe in 1942 had proved this. Winston Churchill came up with the idea that if the Allies could not capture one they had to build one. “Don’t give me the problems,” he stated, “Only the answers.” Thus two prefabricated structures were towed across the channel and set down to act as ports. These were known as Mulberry Harbours. The name was taken from a tree in the grounds of Kingswood School in Bath, where the plans were made and finalised. Mulberry A was placed at Omaha beach and Mulberry B, later known as Port Winston, was near Gold beach. A storm on June 19thdestroyed the port at Omaha and nearly Port Winston. However the latter survived and was used to land two and a half million men, five hundred thousand vehicles and four million tonnes of supplies. These were vital to support the war effort in France and beyond. Fuel was also needed and pipelines were laid under the sea nicknamed PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean). One was a flexible pipe and one a less flexible type of cheaper material. They were pulled across the channel and the first was laid in August 1944. They were linked to pumping stations in the UK that were disguised as houses. One of the pipelines comes up in Port En Bessin, near Bayeux, which became a vital fishing town for the Allies to capture.
By August 1944 Paris had been liberated and on May 7th1945 the Germans surrendered unconditionally, to be effective on the 8th.
Rather less well known is a story that links Southampton FC, a schoolteacher and the Daily Telegraph crossword. One of the compilers of the newspaper’s crossword was Leonard Dawe. He had in fact compiled the very first one on 30thJuly 1925 soon after the Times had started using them as puzzles in their paper. Dawe was a graduate of Cambridge University and won a football blue, scoring in Cambridge’s 3-1 victory. He went on to play for Southampton as an amateur and made one appearance for the England amateur side. He was also a member of the UK football squad for the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, but never played. On the On May 2nd1944 he used the word ‘Utah’ in the crossword as a clue. On 22ndMay ‘Omaha’ was used as the answer to the clue “Red Indian on The Missouri”. Saturday 27thMay saw him use ‘Overlord’ and on the 30th‘Mulberry’ followed. When the word ‘Neptune’ was used on June 1stthe security services, MI5, had had enough and arrested Dawe, by then the Headmaster of the Strand School, which had been evacuated to Effingham in Surrey. They were convinced that he was spying for the Germans, as the invasion was one of the best-kept secrets of all time and the use of these clues could be no coincidence. Known by his pupils as “Moneybags” due to his initials, LSD, (Pounds, shillings and Pence in old money) Dawe was seen as a strict disciplinarian and man of high moral principles. Dawe later said of his arrest that, “They turned me inside out. They went to Bury St. Edmonds where my senior colleague, Melville Jones, was living and put him through the works. But they eventually decided not to shoot us after all.” It has since transpired that Dawe would leave an empty crossword grid on the desk in his school study and invite the pupils to fill in the blanks. He would then put clues to the words that they had entered. On the 40thanniversary of D-Day Ronald French, a 14-year-old pupil at The Strand School at the time, came forward to admit that he had put the words in the grid after hearing the US soldiers stationed next door to the school using them. He said that lots of the boys knew the words although they had no idea what they meant. He had in fact showed his notebook to Dawe who had burnt it such was his concern for what it contained. Thus the mystery was solved, there had been no spying, and Operation Overlord was the greatest amphibious landing in history liberating Europe. As Churchill said after Rommel’s forces had been driven out of Egypt, marking a turning point in the war, “Now this is not the end. It is not the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”