Feature: Remembering Warwickshire soldiers’ effort during D-Day

D-Day Painting by Terence Cuneo (photo copyright of Gillian Fletcher) and courtesy of the Fusilier Museum in Warwick.
D-Day Painting by Terence Cuneo (photo copyright of Gillian Fletcher) and courtesy of the Fusilier Museum in Warwick.

Self-published military historian Mark Smith is reminding us all about the role Warwickshire soldiers played in the D-Day landings of the Second World War which took place 75 years ago next Thursday (June 6).

Self-published military historian Mark Smith is reminding us all about the role Warwickshire soldiers played in the D-Day landings of the Second World War which took place 75 years ago next Thursday (June 6).

D-Day Painting by Gilbert Solomon. Photo provided by The Fusilier Museum in Warwick.

D-Day Painting by Gilbert Solomon. Photo provided by The Fusilier Museum in Warwick.

In 2014, Mark published the book The History of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

The book includes a section which covers the regiment’s involvement in the important operation.

In his own words, here is Mark’s account:

With the 75th anniversary of D-Day occurring soon I thought people may be interested in the actions of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in the landings. Only the 2nd Battalion landed at D-Day although the 7th Battalion followed up as reinforcements.

The 2nd Battalion formed part of the 185th Brigade of the 3rd Division which were part of the second wave to land at Queen Beach - one of the designated Sword beaches - on June 6.

They landed in three landing craft and experienced heavy fire.

C company’s lander hit a mine and B and D company in another lander was hit by three shells.

Limping ashore they entered chaos as different units tried to form up and secure a beachhead.

Captain Illing of A company described the landing.

He said: ‘We could see the spouts of water shoot up as enemy bombs and shells fell in the sea... ashore we stumbled, lugging our kits through the last few yards of shallow sea, up breathless and anxious on to the sandy beach’.

By 11.30am, however, the battalion were all ashore and teamed up with the rest of the brigade from where they began to form a secure perimeter around the landing zone, in doing so they took losses from German snipers.

After creating a perimeter they were tasked with blunting the 21st Panzer Division that had begun a counter attack.

Gliders were heavily used in D-Day to land troops behind enemy lines, sadly in this case a glider of the 6th Airbourne landed on two Signallers of B company killing them in a bizarre ‘friendly fire’ incident.

The battalion ended the first day on a high, taking key villages and two bridges.

Losses at the end of the first day stood at four killed and 35 wounded.

The following day was less successful. Commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Herdon was killed by machine gun fire. Other officers including Captain Illing were injured and Captain Bannerman and his platoon were captured by the SS.

Losses by the end of the June 7 accounted for ten officers and 144 men.

The battalion was then pulled back and rested.

**** The Fusilier Museum Warwick at St John’s House tells the story of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment ****

More about the 2nd Battalion’s involvement in the landings can be found at the museum including a detailed model based on a famous painting by Gilbert Solomon.

Visitors can listen to accounts by soldiers such as Capt Harry Illing who, aged 23, was the officer in command of A Company of the 2nd Battalion.

There is also a map and panel anout D-Day, a painting of the 2nd Batallion by Cuneo, a rare photo of Lebisey Wood showing British and German positions and other objects relating to the Second World War.

Harry Illing wrote a book called No Better Soldier about his wartime experiences which is sold exclusively at the museum.

Two definitive books about the regiment - one called The Story of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment by Carles Lethbridge and The History of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment by Marcus Cunliffe - have also been published.

The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday and on Bank Holiday Mondays from 10am to 5pm.