On this day 69 years ago more than 150,000 Allied service personnel began landing in north west Europe. D-Day was one of the key actions of World War Two. It established a beachhead that allowed men and equipment from the UK, US, Canada and other allied nations to mount the offensive that would, with a Russian push from the east, liberate Europe from Nazi control.
One of my favourite and most memorable interviews was with Harry Wheeler, who was a sapper in 249 Field Squadron of the Royal Engineers in 1944. I am deeply honoured to have been the first journalist to tell the story of how this absolute gentleman was one of the very first Allied soldiers to land on European soil shortly after midnight on June 6, a few hours ahead of the ship-borne forces.
Sapper Wheeler and his comrades secured a crucial canal bridge that today is known as Pegasus Bridge. Had they not succeeded, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel would have been able to bring divisions from the east to halt the allied invasion as troops came off the beaches. Many would call Harry Wheeler a hero, but he told me:
“I’m not a hero. I was a scared young man. Those are the heroes, lying dead in France.”
They all played their part in saving Europe from Nazi tyranny. And the generations that follow should take a moment to say thank you to them and all those who served with them in World War Two.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
- Please click on the image above if you would like to read a larger version of the article.
- Encyclopædia Britannica has a good introductory resource about D-Day for anyone wanting to learn more.