Small English village remembers D-Day with ‘top-secret’ story

World Today

In the days leading up to D-Day, Allied forces were busy with a “top-secret” landing operation. Troops and materials were gathering near a small village in England. As CGTN’s Kitty Logan reports, this quiet project was building-up to a much larger mission.

Trebah Beach is a picture of tranquility today. Kayaks paddle on its calm clear waters, boats sail down Helford river on a warm late Spring evening. But 75 years ago, this secluded Cornish cove looked very different.

The beach was covered in concrete, with large American naval ships docked at makeshift pier in its deep waters, loading vehicles and equipment ahead of D-Day.

On June 1, 1944, around 7,000 troops from the U.S. 29th Infantry Division boarded the ships and left in darkness from Cornish shores, sailing west along the coast before joining the rest of the Allied fleet heading for the Normandy coast. Their final destination was Omaha Beach in France, where many would not survive.

The Americans came to the area to plan, prepare, and train for D-Day, otherwise known as Operation Overlord. Their presence was shrouded in secrecy.

They set up sealed camps, locked down roads, fenced off the beaches with barbed wire and forced residents to turn off lights at night. No one was to know what they were preparing for.

“We didn’t understand and we didn’t know what was happening, because they were building a pier at Trebah beach. I lived at Durgan and I could see them building the pier. But no-one knew what the pier was being built for,” local resident Silvia King said.

Despite the clandestine nature of the U.S. deployment, Kally Hutchings remembers well when the American soldiers came to her village. She was 8 years old at the time.

“One day I was walking home from home from school, there were all these jeeps stationary, one behind the other,” she said. “All full of young Americans. We were told to get off the roads.”

But at the height of war-time austerity, local residents welcomed their unexpected American guests.

“We were given Lucky Strike cigarettes and we had a lot of chewing gum,” Hutchings said. “Oh, we went home running then, to show our mum what the Americans had given us.”

The villagers did not realize at the time that the U.S. soldiers were destined for one the most bitter battles of D-Day.

The local community at Trebah holds a memorial event every year to mark their departure. The small, intimate ceremony also pays tribute to local veterans.

In June 1944, Ken Angell was a young soldier with the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He courageously crossed the English Channel in a powerless, clumsy glider, silently landing to face the German enemy head on.

“They started shooting at us. They all knew we were coming,” he said. “We were destined to go to Herouvillette and hold the high ground outside Herouvillette. We were in there three months. And every day, night and day, there was shelling.”

Despite the stiff resistance, Angell’s unit advanced towards Caen.

“We were protecting a flank of the people that were going into Caen,” he said. “But they couldn’t get in there. So, we were taking the flak because Caen had not been captured.”

In the lush, leafy Trebah Gardens overlooking the cove, veterans, dignitaries and local people gathered to remember the bravery of those Allied soldiers who fought and died to liberate Europe.

Angell’s family gently helped him from his wheelchair so he could walk a few steps and lay a wreath of red poppies at a memorial plaque.

A musician played “The Last Post” — a bugle call signifying the end of the day — from the shade of the trees.

“All those young Americans that I saw and passed in their stationary jeeps,” Hutchings said. “I think it’s marvelous that in this day and age we’re remembering them and they didn’t lose their lives for nothing at all.”

For those who fought in Normandy, memories have lingered for a lifetime.

With tears in his eyes, Ken remembered the men in his unit who died when their glider crashed into the sea.

“One of the worst times was coming back and going in to our barracks. And I looked around and all those empty beds. That was the worst time,” he said.

The ceremony was interrupted by the sound of a helicopter overhead. As the crowd moved down to the cove, it circled and hovered low over the water, stirring up spray.

A door opened and a crewman carefully lowered a rope, gently dropping a wreath into the sea from where the American soldiers left. Then he saluted the crowd.

The American soldiers left this place for Normandy 75 years ago, but the people here in Trebah have never forgotten.