A service of remembrance and decication was held on Sunday June 6 on the North Quay to mark the 77th anniversary of the D Day landings.
The service was conducted by the Chaplain to the Royal British Legion, the Archdeacon of Man, the Ven Andrew Brown, who was joined by the Mayor and Mayoress and Sir Laurence New CB CBE.
Sir Laurence's address is quoted in full below.
Your Worships, Veterans, Ladies and Gentlemen
I regret that I am a very poor substitute for Hector Duff who gave this D Day Address when we last assembled here in 2019. I am an Honorary Life Normandy Veteran but not a real one – indeed I was a 12-year-old schoolboy in 1944, a boarder at King Williams College because both my father and mother were in the Army away from the Island
I was asked to be the NVA President when we returned to the Island for good twenty-six years ago. There were still forty veterans alive. We came to know them well but sadly we watched those numbers fall to fifteen by 2002 [see appended photograph below] and then we lost an average of two a year until Hector was the last man standing until 30 November last year when his remarkable life ended most stylishly. We interred his ashes alongside Gladys on what would have been their eighty first wedding anniversary three weeks ago. His family are with us today.
What the Normandy Veterans achieved was so extraordinary that it has been suggested that it was the British Commonwealth’s greatest achievement. Churchill talked of our Finest hours. I suggest that amongst those hours, 6 June 1944 was our finest day ever.
You may disagree. If you visit the beaches today with the American museums and memorials, and if you watch the many documentaries still being screened, you would be tempted to think that the British were the junior partners - rather tucked on. Actually the facts are a little different. Of the 156.000 troops landed by sea and air on D Day 73,000 were Americans on two beaches; but 83,115 were British Commonwealth on three beaches. The overall Land Commander was UK General Montgomery. The large armada of some 7,000 ships included 154 warships – battle ships, cruisers and destroyers -of which 118 were British and 46 were American. This whole fleet was under the Command of UK Admiral Ramsay.
The Allied Deception plan was brilliant and thanks to the breaking of the Enigma Code – an entirely British achievement - the Allies could be sure that Hitler and the German High Command were convinced that the main attack would be across the channel at the Pas de Calais. Another uniquely British contribution was the concept of the Mulberry Harbours. Churchill personally ordered their design and construction. “Let me have the best solution worked out. Don’t argue the matter. The difficulties will argue for themselves. Action this day.” The problem of sustaining the troops ashore was huge. The Germans had established particularly strong defences around Cherbourg and Antwerp, the two nearest deep-water ports, and defended them at great cost The allies did not capture Cherbourg and use it for unloading until the middle of August some ten weeks after landing. Antwerp was not captured and got into action until the last day of November, nearly six months after landing. Until those ports were open the surviving home-made Mulberry Harbour was the only means of sea-borne supply.
I am not decrying the American contribution. We could not have survived World War 11 without them. Rather I am pointing out that the British contribution to D Day was unique and outstanding.
An opposed amphibious landing is by far the most difficult operation of war. In this case there were 90,000 German defenders well dug in dominating the beaches. The Allied casualties were 10,000 on that first day - 4.400 fatalities of which 2,500 were American and 1,900 were British and Commonwealth. Although horrendous, they were much lighter than the planners had dared to hope. How can this be explained?
Apart from the brilliant deception, planning and such features as total air supremacy there were, I suggest, three other features – extraordinary if not miraculous - that contributed to this much less than expected casualty bill.
1. The weather. The unseasonal storm on 5 June caused postponement for 24 hours not only because of the rough seas but also because of the low cloud cover which would prevent accurate bombing and accurate delivery of parachuted troops. It had a significant benefit for the Allies because it persuaded the German commanders like Rommel that it was safe to be away from their posts on leave. Moreover, on 4 and 5 June the normal U boat patrols of the Channel were suspended, so the Armada of ships headed for Normandy was not detected.
2. Hitler had come to rely more on his occult mediums and soothsayers than on his Intelligence staffs, such that he continued to withhold German reserves earmarked for Calais from being moved down to Normandy when the Allies were critically vulnerable.
3. King George V1. He could and did make a unique contribution in two particular ways. He was a committed Christian, believing in prayer, and he was one of the very few who were privy to classified information to the highest security levels. His weekly meetings with Churchill ensured that he knew when prayer was especially necessary, and when it was safe, without compromising key dates, to call the Nation to Days of prayer – usually but not invariably on a Sunday. He did this at the time of the declaration of war; at the time of Dunkirk; at the Battle of Britain; at the height of the Blitz; at the crisis point before Alamein; at the invasion of Sicily and Italy; before D Day (on 23 April so as not to give specific warning); when the Allies entered German soil and after Allied victory in Europe and in the Far East. The National response to each of these twelve calls to prayer was on every occasion immense, and it is not difficult to believe that our national prayers were answered. How different from Alastair Campbell’s description of Tony Blair’s Government on 5 May 2003 “Sorry, we don’t do God”.
In WW II there were 84,000 British soldiers killed in combat. Most realised they were standing into danger. Most hoped as they faced death that their sacrifice would enable those who survived to have at least a chance to make the world a better place. That hope is epitomised in the Kohima Epitaph which we will recite after the Two Minute Silence - “When you go home, tell them of us and say ‘For your tomorrow we gave our today’”.
We should and we will remember them. Amen.