An English connection to D-Day: The Tribune India


Rahul Bedi

Accounts of the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944 during World War II remind me of the stories my late mother told when American soldiers descended, in 1943, on her postcard village of Ramsbury in England to s train for the Allied invasion.

His memories were mostly of unlimited supplies of chocolate, butter, and coffee that GIs seemed to provide effortlessly to a populace starving for these treats during a time of severe rationing. She also recalled Private First Class Vincent Clarke, who courted her sister Grace, later marrying her. But not before being parachuted into France with the first wave of Allied troops and having his leg shattered by a hail of German machine guns. His leg was amputated and after a few traumatic months he got used to a wooden limb and then a fiberglass limb.

A two-hour drive from London, Ramsbury was one of the villages chosen by the Lords of the Admiralty to simulate parachute landings in France. Its rolling hills and numerous waterways resembled the terrain where Allied troops were to descend during the coming invasion. A few days before the GIs arrived, there was intense activity in and around Ramsbury. Army jeeps carrying senior officers frequently arrived from war-torn London, scoured the countryside around the peaceful village and drove off. The following months saw a bilateral education program between locals and foreigners. This resulted in the Ramsbury yokels looking less openly at the Yankees, while the Yankees reciprocated by drinking tasteless tea with the natives, realizing that Yorkshire pudding was not actually pudding, and sometimes, in having a glass of lukewarm beer at the village pub owned by my grandfather. .

For the GIs in combat fatigues, the days were filled with war games against a backdrop of the almost constant roar of transport planes disgorging the soldiers practicing parachute drops. Many Ramsbury ladies, my mother recalls, ended up wearing white silk dresses from the abandoned silk parachutes.

But one night in April 1944 – two months before the start of the D-Day landings – there was feverish activity inside the heavily guarded American base, followed by a relentless procession of vehicles heading for London; and the GIs were gone. The villagers knew the time had come for American soldiers to play with real bullets.

A few returned after the war and attempted to reunite with acquaintances. For many, the quest ended in the picturesque churchyard, where they placed flowers on the graves of those who had once befriended rough GIs destined for the bloody beaches of Normandy.