The Alfred Hicks Connection

In a previous blog post, The Pigeon Connection, I wrote about the Air Information Unit attached to No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron. This was led by Alan Melville, an R.A.F. Air Information Officer, accompanied by war correspondent Montague Taylor, and a cameraman from the R.A.F. Film Production Unit. Alan Melville wrote in his book:

The film unit boy was the youngest looking Sergeant I had ever seen, by name Alf. He was making a pathetic attempt to grow a moustache, and spent a great deal of time stroking the thin wisps of down which he had managed to cultivate over the past few months. He was quiet, shy, and tremendously efficient.

Alan Melville, “First Tide”, Skeffington & Son, London, 1945 (page 11)

“Alf” was Sergeant Alfred Hicks. This is clear from some of the digitised film attributed to Alfred Hicks on the IWM website. This film includes shots that relate to No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron and other scenes referred to in Alan Melville’s book and other accounts.


Melville describes how his party embarked on LST 302 at Portsmouth and “lay at anchor for three days while our part of the invasion fleet mustered”. They weighed anchor at 6.30pm on the 5th June and sailed for the SWORD Assault Area. They arrived off the beaches on D-Day.

We had to unload the DUKWs first: they left us two miles out and made their own way ashore. Alf went in on the first one in order to use his camera on the spot as early as possible; he waved back at us cheerily enough, but he was looking a little white.

Alan Melville, “First Tide”, Skeffington & Son, London, 1945 (page 27)
Sgt. Hicks leaves LST 302 on a DUKW, D-day 6th June 1944
[clip from INVASION BEACHES, FOUR DAYS AFTER D-DAY [Allocated Title] | Imperial War Museums (

After the DUKWs swam off, a rhino ferry had to be manoeuvred into position to take everything else ashore. It was some time before Melville and Montague Taylor, with their jeep, landed on the beach. After a further while in the confusion of a beach under fire, they eventually found 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight H.Q.

Alf walked into the dugout an hour after we reached it. By that time we were pretty sure that he had been killed. He was even dirtier than we were, and he sat down and accepted the mug of tea which was shoved into his hand without saying a word. But on being given a cigarette he recovered sufficiently to vent his spleen on the officer in charge of the DUKW in which he had come ashore, who had refused to stop to let him off and had swept him inland and deposited him with his camera very near the enemy lines. Alf had staggered back to the beaches as the one person who was shooting with something other than a gun, and thought he had got some rather good pictures.

Alan Melville, “First Tide”, Skeffington & Son, London, 1945 (page 32)
Alfred Hicks at the IWM Film Archive, 17th May 2019.
[Source Dan Snow meets Alfred Hicks, a cameraman who filmed D-Day | IWM Film (]

The Pigeon Connection

Every now and again we hear about a pigeon called Gustav that was awarded the Dickin medal after bringing home the first message about the D-Day landings. Recently there was a news item on the BBC website:

Heroic D-Day pigeon from Portsmouth remembered on Dickin Medal 80th anniversary

Gustav was released by journalist Montague Taylor off the coast of Normandy in the SWORD assault area, with a message he wrote on board an L.S.T. as it approached the beaches.

What is not generally known is the connection that Gustav’s exploit has with an RAF Beach Squadron.

The following snippet from the Belfast Telegraph on 6th June 1944 leads us into the story of this connection:



The invasion army has thought of everything, including carrier pigeons to carry the big news home if all else fails.

A wing commander arrived here only a few hours before I embarked on my landing ship tank and presented me with a basket of four pigeons, complete with food and message-carrying equipment.

The connection is more fully explained in Alan Melville’s book “First Tide” (Skeffington & Son, London, 1946).

Writer, Alan Melville had enlisted in the RAF in 1941 and by 1944 had been commissioned and was working as an Air Information Officer. For the invasion he was attached to No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron “and was to take a jeep containing a war correspondent, a man from the R.A.F. Film Unit, a driver, and myself”. Melville refers to the war correspondent as “Henry”, but it is clear from the other information we have that this person is Montague Taylor.

Melville, as the publisher puts it on the book’s dust jacket, “gives fascinatingly realistic pictures, shot with humour and emotion, of the scenes described”. The pigeon story comes in as his party are about to leave the Concentration Area and move forward for embarkation.

We were just moving off when a large car drove up and a panting Wing Commander got out of it carrying a colossal wicker basket and a fairly large waterproof-covered packing case. “Thank God I caught you in time,” he said. “I’ve brought your pigeons.” “My what?” I said. “Your pigeons. You must have pigeons, you know.” And sure enough, the wicker basket contained four of the infernal birds, cooing like mad things. I told the Wing Commander as firmly as possible, considering the difference in our ranks, that I hadn’t the slightest intention of cavorting over the Continent with a portable aviary, and for a moment I thought he was going to burst into tears. He had the perfect salesman’s manner and when he brought out the set of one dozen collapsible drinking troughs, my sales resistance broke down completely and the four birds (whom we christened Blood, Sweat, Toil, and Tears) were lashed to the top of the mountain of gear already on the Jeep. Toil gave me a sharp peck when I was trying to be friendly to her during a halt on the journey, and Henry only just managed to restrain me from releasing the whole quartet there and then with four rude messages to the Wing Commander.

Alan Melville, “First Tide”, Skeffington & Son, London, 1945 (page 21)

The reader will note that Montague Taylor (aka Henry) said the Wing Commander handed over the four pigeons to him whereas, according to Alan Melville, he was the recipient. There’s a bit of journalistic licence involved here, but it is likely that they were given to Melville as he was the R.A.F. officer in charge of the party. Given the feelings Melville expresses about being given the pigeons we might assume that he was happy to hand them over to Henry’s care!

Alan Melville’s party and their Jeep were embarked upon L.S.T. 302 at Portsmouth and “lay at anchor for three days while our part of the invasion fleet mustered”.

On the evening of the second day ……. an immaculate R.A.S.C. launch with its full crew came alongside and to my horror four more pigeons were hauled up on deck with a polite note from the Wing Commander saying that we’d better be on the safe side, and that he hoped we were remembering to give Blood, Toil, Sweat, and Tears their water every evening.

Alan Melville, “First Tide”, Skeffington & Son, London, 1945 (page 24)

Finally, on 6th June 1944, as L.S.T. 302 approached the SWORD beaches, Melville describes how Gustav the pigeon was released by Montague Taylor with that famous message.

Henry released a pigeon with a message saying that we were about to land; I think it was Sweat, but there was always some doubt about individual members of the quartet. Whichever bird it was, it circled above us three times and then made for England as though its life depended on getting the hell out of this part of the world as quickly as possible – which may well have been the case. It made the evening papers that Tuesday, which cheered Henry enormously. We watched until we could see it no longer, and then we turned round to face Normandy.

Alan Melville, “First Tide”, Skeffington & Son, London, 1945 (page 26)

A series of official photographs tells the story of Gustave the pigeon arriving with Montague Taylor’s message. I think we can assume that these were staged after the event, but nevertheless they show Gustav back at base, after the event.

LIBERATION OF EUROPE : PIGEON BRINGS FIRST INVASION NEWS. Gustave, an RAF Coastal Command carrier pigeon, brought the first War Correspondent’s despatch back to England from the Allied Invasion forces off the enemy coast, and the bird was released at 8:30 in the morning. Flying against a 30 miles an hour head wind, the pigeon landed in its loft on a south coast Coastal Command Station at 1:46 in the afternoon. The message was written on an R.A.F. pigeon form by Mr. Taylor of Reuters, twenty miles off the enemy coast. Copyright: © IWM (CH 13321). Original Source:
Message being removed from Gustave by Corporal A. Randall of London, with Sergeant H. Hakey of London [right] assisting. Copyright: © IWM (CH 13320). Original Source:
Corporal Randall and Sergeant Hakey read the message over the ‘phone to the Signals Officer. Copyright: © IWM (CH 13322) . Original Source:
The message was immediately telephoned to London for publication. It read: “We are just twenty miles or so off the beaches. First assault troops landed 0750. Signal says no interference from enemy gunfire on beach. Passage uneventful. Steaming steadily on. Formations Lightnings, Typhoons, Fortresses crossing since 0545. No enemy aircraft seen.” A photographic copy of the message June 1944 Copyright: © IWM (CH 13323). Original Source:

Serial 3539 to Normandy

About Serials

In the planning of the Normandy invasion, a specific allocation of craft and shipping was made for the Assault and Follow-up Forces. There was an exact allotment of personnel and equipment to each craft, which was detailed in Landing Tables. Each craft-load was given a serial number by which it was identified in the Landing Tables and in the Loading Tables that were compiled from them.

Sherman tanks of ‘A’ Squadron, Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers), 8th Armoured Brigade, come ashore from LCT 1076 on Jig beach, Gold area, 6 June 1944. On the right, a bulldozer helps clear a path off the beach. Copyright: © IWM (B 5259). Note the number of the serial (2165) displayed on the front of the LCT’s superstructure.

The advance parties of No. 4 RAF Beach Squadron, numbering 17 men, sailed with Force ‘G’ to land First Tide (in Serials 2183, 2190, 2468, 2564, 2818 and 2916).  However, most of the Squadron sailed with Force ‘L’ to land Second Tide (in Serials 3525, 3527, 3528. 3539, 3540, 3542, 3543 and 3759).

Here we are going focus on just one of the many ’serials’ in the Assault and Follow-up landings.

John Fenton in Serial 3539

John Fenton was a Cypher Sergeant with the Signals Section of 4 Beach Squadron. He later described his voyage to the GOLD area of the Normandy beaches, in writing and in a radio interview broadcast in 1981 and again in 1984.

Among the sand dunes of a river estuary – we were at Felixstowe, someone said – on a warm summer’s evening, Army pay officers at trestle tables gave us the first confirmation of our destination. We lined up, handed over whatever English Treasury notes we had, and received in exchange crisp, newly-printed French franc notes. So, it was France!

The loading of Landing Craft seemed interminable. Vehicles and tanks had to be reversed up the steep, narrow ramps so that later they could drive straight off. Recovery vehicles stood by to help the unfortunate. Occasionally, less skilled drivers would be replaced temporarily by the more adept. Securing chains had to be fixed, and when each Landing Craft had its full load of vehicles, the personnel were taken on board. At 10 pm on 2nd June, I boarded an LCT, numbered 3539…..

Listen to John Fenton speaking about his experience.

At around 06.00 Hours, the Marching Party from Serial 3539 met up with the 3-ton truck (from Serial 3540) carrying their equipment. They set up their signals post and communication was established with C.H.Q. Portsmouth at 10.10 Hours.

More about Serial 3539

Serial 3539 was carried in an LCT Mk III from Felixstowe. It was loaded with 11 vehicles and 75 men. 41 men were foot passengers (in Marching Parties) and 34 were with the vehicles (Vehicle Parties). 29 of the men and seven of the vehicles were RAF, while 3 vehicles and 46 men belonged to Army units.

There were seven 3-ton trucks with various types of signals bodies, belonging to units of the RAF’s 83 Group Main HQ and the Group Control Centre, plus a 3-ton truck and Jeep belonging to the Commander, Royal Engineers, 104 Beach Sub-Area. There was also a heavy artillery tractor towing an RAF Type 14 Radar Trailer belonging to an Anti-Aircraft unit of the Army.

The marching parties included 11 men who were troops of the Commander, RASC, 104 Beach Sub-Area, and 11 men belonging to 90 Field Company, 10 Beach Group. The RAF marching party of ten were from 4 Beach Squadron and were mostly from the HQ Signals Section.  

Serial 3539 was scheduled to land in the JIG Sector at H+19½ hours, which would be 02.55 Hours on 7th June.

L.C.T.s beach in the GOLD Assault Area, Normandy, with protective balloons flown by No. 980 R.A.F. Beach Balloon Squadron. Picture by an RAF Official Photographer. © IWM (CL 55).


J. N. Dobbin MC

Air Ministry, 30th November, 1943.

The KlNG has been graciously pleased to approve the following award:-

Military Cross.

Acting Flight Lieutenant John Nicholas DOBBIN (67733),
Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Acting as an assistant military landing officer, Flight Lieutenant Dobbin landed with assault troops on one of the beaches in Italy. The beach was under heavy fire from enemy guns and mortars. Realising the urgency of establishing the beach, Flight Lieutenant Dobbin started the organisation in a most prompt and praiseworthy manner and it was due to his efforts that immediately the first vehicles arrived, they were landed and despatched to the assembly area. Later, though wounded by cannon fire from an enemy aircraft, this officer refused to leave his duties. Throughout the whole operation he displayed fine courage and leadership.

(See London Gazette Issue 36267 at

John Nicholas Dobbin was originally commissioned in the R.A.F.’s Balloon Branch. He transferred to the Administrative and Special Duties Branch as a Flying Officer on 15th February 1943. As an Acting Flight Lieutenant he won his M.C. at Salerno in September 1943 with the R.A.F. Component of No. 35 Beach Brick and he returned to the U.K. from the Mediterranean in December 1943.

He was an officer of No. 4 R.A.F. Beach Unit when it was formed in January 1944 and then, in March 1944, he was posted to No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Unit (soon renamed No 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron). On joining No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Unit, he was appointed officer commanding No. 101 Beach Section and was promoted to the rank of Acting Squadron Leader. For his leadership of this unit (renamed No. 101 R.A.F. Beach Flight) in the invasion of Normandy it was announced, on 1st January 1945, that he had been Mentioned in Despatches.

Alan Melville, who was attached to No. 1 R.A.F. Beach Squadron and landed on D-Day in Normandy, wrote this about Squadron Leader Dobbin:

Dobby was an amazing man. He had earned an M.C. at Salerno, and was very much au fait with mornings such as this – without becoming an invasion bore about it. He brimmed over with energy, and he more or less ran our sector of the beach in the first few days. Somehow or other he always contrived to look immaculate when the rest of us were plastered in inches of filth over our clothes and bodies. He carried a stick always, and stampeded over the beach nosing out any signs of inefficiency or delay in getting stuff unloaded or sent inland. Actually, such matters were none of his business at all, as no R.A.F. stores had yet arrived on our sector, but in spite of that Dobby tore around for sixteen hours a day and raised general Cain.

 “First Tide”, by Alan Melville, Skeffington & Son, 1945, p30-31

W/Cdr. Rowland George DSO, OBE

Air Ministry, 26th May, 1944.

The KlNG has been graciously pleased to approve the following award:-

Distinguished Service Order.

Acting Wing Commander Rowland David George, O.B.E. (75777), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Wing Commander George, the senior movements staff officer, was responsible for the smooth and efficient working of the supply system from the beaches to the airfields during the assault landings at Salerno. He landed with the first assault troops on the beaches in the early morning of 10th September 1943. Thereafter he was under fire, both on the beaches and whilst travelling between the various supply dumps and airfields, until the enemy had been forced to retreat sufficiently to allow the airfields to be occupied by units of the Tactical Air Force. Wing Commander George was wounded when his tented camp was hit by 2 bombs. He did not, however, allow this to interfere with his personal supervision of the work of unloading and distributing the urgently required supplies. Throughout the operation Wing Commander George displayed great gallantry and his example and coolness whilst under fire were an inspiration to those under his command and contributed largely to the success of the operation.

 See London Gazette Issue 36531 at

Strictly speaking, Rowland George was never an R.A.F. beach unit officer but his name appears many times in the records of the beach units in the Mediterranean theatre of operations.

His experience of amphibious assault landings began with Operation TORCH, before R.A.F. beach units were formed. After their formation, his appointment as a Senior Movements Staff Officer meant that he was very much involved with R.A.F. beach units, more so because he was the kind of man who liked to take a very active part in operations.

Before the Second World War, Rowland George had been a successful oarsman and won a gold medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. At the start of the War he was 34 years old and was commissioned in the Equipment branch of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, becoming an Explosives specialist.

In 1942, as an Acting Squadron Leader, he commanded No. 59 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit, sailing to Algeria for Operation TORCH. Landing early on D-Day, 8th November, on the beach near Surcouf, he claimed for his Unit ‘the honour of being the first R.A.F. Embarkation Unit to make an initial landing on enemy occupied territory.’ [1] After working on the beaches for the first day, the Unit moved to Algiers but immediately transferred to Maison Blanche airfield, where the Unit worked for over a week. No. 59 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit then moved to the harbour at Bone where Squadron Leader George continued to command the Unit for four months facing, among other challenges, considerable harassment by the Luftwaffe. Near the end of March 1943, Squadron Leader George was posted to Mediterranean Central Command.

For his achievements as Commanding Officer of No. 59 R.A.F. Embarkation Unit in Operation TORCH and at Bone, Rowland George was appointed O.B.E. (Officer of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire).

Rowland George was promoted to the rank of Acting Wing Commander and became Movements Officer at Headquarters Northwest Africa Tactical Air Force (N.A.T.A.F.). For the invasion of Sicily (Operation HUSKY) Wing Commander George sailed with the R.A.F. units that were landing with the U.S. assault troops at Scoglitti and was again among the first R.A.F. personnel ashore.

His participation in the Salerno landings (Operation AVALANCHE) is summed up in the citation (above) for the D.S.O. he was awarded.

At the end of 1943 Wing Commander George played a major part in the re-organisation of R.A.F. beach units for the Central Mediterranean Force, interviewing personnel and making recommendations on the organisation and duties of R.A.F. beach units.

In 1944 Rowland George was Mentioned in Despatches twice and was also appointed Officer of the Legion of Merit by the United States of America in recognition of valuable services rendered in connection with the war.

Rowland George was probably the only officer in the Equipment branch of the R.A.F. to have been decorated with the D.S.O. He died in 1997 aged 92. 

[1] Operations Record Book of No. 59 RAF Embarkation Unit – found in, ‘Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence: Operations Record Books, Miscellaneous Units’ AIR 29/18 at The National Archives.

(Some information in this post comes from a copy of Rowland George’s obituary in the Daily Telegraph seen by the author, and further entries in the London Gazette. More biographical information about Rowland George can be seen on Wikepedia)


Beach Squadron Awards

Awards to Normandy Beach Squadron Personnel

This is a list that has been gradually compiled as information has become available, or by searching entries in The Gazette. The list remains incomplete.

Please note that this list is only about the 2nd Tactical Air Force Beach Squadrons in Operation OVERLORD and does not include awards given to RAF beach unit personnel for other operations.

Officer of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)

75937Acting W/Cdr.L.S.N.B. FaulknerR.A.F.V.R.Officer Commanding No. 1 Beach Squadron
and Commander R.A.F., 101 Beach Sub Area
Gazette Issue 36544, 2nd June 1944,  Page 2583
31364Acting W/Cdr.B. ArmigerR.A.F.O.Officer Commanding No. 2 Beach Squadron
and Commander R.A.F., 102 Beach Sub Area
Gazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 19
31287Acting W/Cdr.J.E.T. MurphyR.A.F.O.Officer Commanding No. 4 Beach Squadron
and Commander R.A.F., 104 Beach Sub Area
Gazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 20

Croix de Guerre (avec étoile en vermeil)

A gilt star (étoile en vermeil) on the medal ribbon indicates an award made at Corps level. It is believed that two people in each R.A.F. Beach Squadron may have been awarded the Croix de Guerre. Only two recipients have been identified thus far. (The citation states that the award is for exceptional war service in the course of operations for the liberation of France.)

644472Acting F/Sgt.H.C. FryR.A.F.Landing Section101 Beach FlightNo. 1 Beach Squadron
142970Acting F/Lt.D. WoollacottR.A.F.V.R.Ammunition Officer104 Beach FlightNo. 2 Beach Squadron

Mentioned in Despatches

A single bronze oak leaf emblem worn on the ribbon of the War Medal 1939-45 signifies this award, which could be for gallantry in action or for other noteworthy service.

MiD awards were probably also on a quota basis but how many per R.A.F. Beach Squadron is not known. The following recipients have been identified thus far.

No. 1 Beach Squadron
67733Acting S/Ldr.J. N. Dobbin MCR.A.F.V.R.Beach Flight Commander101 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 69
105720Acting F/Lt.E. S. ArchboldR.A.F.V.R.Ammunition Officer101 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 71
Aus. 287435Acting F/Lt.G. McBrideR.A.A.F.Landing Officer101 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 99
364056W/OT. HughesR.A.F.M.T. Section101 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 77
644472Acting F/Sgt.H. C. FryR.A.F.Landing Section101 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 81
1007284Cpl.N. L. ThormanR.A.F.V.R.Provost Section101 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 91
87603Acting S/Ldr.H. G. RaeR.A.F.V.R.Beach Flight Commander102 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 67
No. 2 Beach Squadron
89074Acting S/Ldr.R. A. SandisonR.A.F.V.R.Beach Flight Commander103 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 68
79864Acting F/Lt.P. M. ButlerR.A.F.V.R.Officer i/c Assembly Area103 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 69
100197Acting F/Lt.J. R. AlcockR.A.F.V.R.Landing Officer103 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 71
104917Acting F/Lt.F. BinnsR.A.F.V.R.M.T. Officer103 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 71
31297S/Ldr.E. TowersR.A.F.O.Beach Flight Commander104 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 65
644104Sgt.E. G. IngeR.A.F.V.R.Ammunition Section104 Beach FlightGazette Issue 37407, 28th December 1945,  Page 111
No. 4 Beach Squadron
86962F/Lt.F. WilsonR.A.F.V.R.Landing Officer107 Beach FlightGazette Issue 37407, 28th December 1945,  Page 99
1605203F/Sgt.A. G. GouldR.A.F.V.R.Landing Section107 Beach FlightGazette Issue 37407, 28th December 1945,  Page 107
1215060LACG. A. HarveyR.A.F.V.R..Landing Section107 Beach FlightGazette Issue 36866, 29th December 1944,  Page 93
117132F/Lt.G. L. BruceR.A.F.V.R.Ammunition Officer108 Beach FlightGazette Issue 37407, 28th December 1945,  Page 96
119282F/Lt.J. E. MorrisR.A.F.V.R.Landing Officer108 Beach FlightGazette Issue 37407, 28th December 1945,  Page 98
366116F/Sgt.A. G. HouseR.A.F.Landing Section108 Beach FlightGazette Issue 37407, 28th December 1945,  Page 107
909879Sgt.W. J. WoodR.A.F.V.R.Clerk/GDHeadquartersGazette Issue 37407, 28th December 1945,  Page 113

A British Airman on Omaha Beach

This article used to be on the Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council website. However Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council ceased to exist on April 1st 2009 and their website was decommissioned. The article can not be found via the Cheshire East Council website which replaced the Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council website.
Luckily, I took a copy of the article after I first saw it and have taken the liberty of re-publishing it as I believe it should continue to be seen.

12 Singleton Avenue, Crewe

Arnold volunteered for the Royal Air Force in 1943 and after his initial training, he was posted to Blackpool to train as a wireless operator. He passed the course, but much to his disappointment; he failed the medical for the air crew. He was then posted to Combined Operations.

Early in 1944, Arnold found himself attached to the American 1st Division (The Big Red One), his job being Ground to Air Communications. It was in that role that he landed on ‘D’ Day on Omaha Beach in Normandy. He was in one of the first waves of landing craft but as we now know the Americans were not able to get forward from the beach for some hours.

All that Arnold and his American colleagues could do at this time was to get under whatever cover was available to them. This happened to be their own truck which contained all their radio equipment. It was soon clear that it would be safer to be further along the beach, so they made a dash for the next vehicle a few yards away. Arnold was the first to scramble under the truck with the Americans crowding behind him, but almost instantly, a mortar round hit the truck that they had just left and the explosion killed the American lads and wounded Arnold in the left knee.

At the time and in the circumstances, he did not think much of it, his only thought being to get off the beach as there was no way back. When the American’s eventually began to force their way off the beach he decided to go with them, even though he had lost his radio equipment and as a result would not be of much use. It was clearly safer than remaining on the beach. His knee was not troubling him at the time.

He attached himself to a group of Americans and moved inland with them for a few days, but in the end his leg gave out and he could no longer walk on it. An American Parson found him laying by the side of a road and he stopped a truck so that Arnold could be transported back to the beach.

He was eventually put aboard the Royal Navy landing craft that was taking the wounded back to England and he said that when the crew found that he was English, they made a fuss of him because he was the first British Serviceman that they had taken off the beach in the three days that they had been operating there.

After he had been in hospital in Blackpool for about eight weeks, he got his first leave. He looked quite a hero. He still wore the RAF battle dress that he had worn when he landed in France. It had been washed and the hole in the knee of the trousers had been darned. He had not been able to get a new uniform because the stores at the hospital had no RAF uniforms. On the sleeve of his blouse he wore the RAF Albatross, the Wireless Operators’ trade badges and a brass wound badge on his cuff. He walked with a stiff leg and had to use a walking stick. He was still in a lot of pain and had been told that he would have to have more operations, but even so, he had a good leave. He got into the dances and the cinemas free, the usherettes made sure that he always had an end seat and that the seat in front was kept empty to enable him to stretch out his long legs.

After his leave, he was off back to Blackpool for more operations. Like a lot more young men in war time, he fell in love with one of the nurses. On his next leave, he brought her home with him. He was so proud of her as she was his first girlfriend.

Early in 1945, he was discharged from hospital as fit for service. He was posted to an American Airfield in Belgium and he kept on the move with them through France, and then into Germany where he was on V.E. Day. I received a letter from him posted on that day telling of his hopes for the future and saying how much he hoped that he would be home for his 21st birthday. Some days later, his mother received a telegram to say that he had been killed on 11th May 1945.

Arnold’s American Commanding Officer wrote to his mother and told her that he had gone to see a dentist some miles away. When he arrived back at the camp, he had jumped out of the cab of the lorry that he was travelling in and had stumbled and fell. The but of the Sten gun that he had been carrying had hit the ground and had fired, hitting him in the head. He died instantly and was buried in a temporary American Cemetery. Later, he was transferred to a British Military Cemetery just over the border in France.

I am proud to say that I have Arnold’s medals in my collection, the 1939-45 Star, France and Germany star, Victory medal and also the badges that he wore on his battledress on D-Day. I have often wondered, if there were any other British Servicemen on Omaha Beach? Arnold never spoke of any, and in his letters after he went back to the continent he wrote only of ‘his American Friends’.

Information provided by Mr P Kirkland, Haslington


VE Day Story

John H. Fenton served as a Code & Cypher Sergeant with No. 4 R.A.F. Beach Squadron in Normandy and then with No. 83 Group Control Centre in Belgium, Holland and Germany. At the end of April 1945, having passed an earlier selection interview, he was posted with immediate effect to the RAF Officers’ Training School, Cosford.

“Next day, one of our trucks took me to Celle airfield.  A constant stream of transport aircraft were landing and taking off.  The first of our ex-prisoners-of-war patiently queued, awaiting their repatriation to England.  I flew in a Dakota – my first flight – to what is now Gatwick airport. On arriving in England, I was granted 48 hours’ leave before reporting to Cosford.”

John, who was 21 years old, had to take down his Sergeant’s stripes and wear the broad white band of an Officer Cadet round his cap. The six week course would last until 14th June 1945.

In his memoirs, John quotes from a letter he wrote to his parents:

Tues  8  May.  VE  Day
“I am wondering how you are spending VE Day.  It’s good to know that the war in Europe is over at last…..I’m sorry I’m not in Germany at the moment.  I landed in Normandy D Day and it seems a pity that I should have returned (to England) about ten days before the end.

…..If I had been anywhere else but here I’d have been celebrating today in the manner it deserved.  This place is the exception though.  We celebrated victory this morning by getting soaked to the skin.  We started work as usual at 7.45 am but at 9 am attended a special victory parade on the square, at which the CO made a speech and there was a short service.  It was obvious before it all started that it was going to pour down with rain – we could hear the thunder.  However, they went on with the parade and, sure enough, we stood through thunder and lightning and a terrific downpour.  We were very near to mutiny.  We were, for once, as keen on a parade and service as anyone, but it would have been a simple matter to postpone it for an hour or two until the storm passed.

We finished at 10 am for the day but, being Officer Cadets, are not allowed to celebrate with the ‘common herd’.  So, this afternoon we’ll write up notes, maybe go to the camp cinema this evening, and go to bed early tonight ready for another hard day’s work tomorrow.  I know one thing.  Pass or fail, I’ll have my own VE Day when I finish this course.

(I understated in my letter what a miserable anti-climax VE Day was for me.  It caught me in a complete No Man’s Land.  I was neither at home nor abroad.  Having left one group of pals, I’d had no opportunity yet to form new friendships. I was neither airman nor officer;  just a Cadet confined to camp to avoid mischief, being processed for service against the Japanese in the Far East.  That day my thoughts were very much back in Germany.)

And my friends in Germany had not forgotten me.  A few days later, I received the following letter.”

1326408  Sgt  Norman
83 Group Control Centre,
Royal Air Force,
British Liberation Army

Tues  8  May  ’45
“VE  DAY!!!!”

Dear Johnny,

I was very pleased to receive your letter yesterday and glad to know you had some time at home – but sorry to hear your feet haven’t touched the deck in Cosford yet – not a moment to yourself – different here – very slack now it’s over!!  We celebrated it the night of the 4th when Jerry packed in on this sector – what a night in the Mess.  I don’t remember half of it and woke up next morning on the floor of the tent – Johnny Day put me to bed and I must have fallen out in the night.

When the news was announced, AA guns started firing and a pilot was above doing victory rolls, Verey Lights were going up all over the show and the lads were firing off rifles and stens – there was a row about that next day – it was quite a night.

Next day, Bill Hales went up to the submarine pens at Hamburg and 600 naval personnel surrendered to him with 5 subs!!!!

We are all together again with the exception of Mr. White who was sent off to Denmark – lucky man – and the question is “What now?”  I’m hoping to be out in a few months – also Jock – seems too good to be true.

We have a couple of radios in the section and are, at this moment, waiting for Churchill’s speech at 1500 – can’t see us staying here long now.  You are lucky to be in England today – we would all give our gratuities to be there today – but in the meantime are managing to ‘rough it’ with cushions, eggs, whisky and a Deutcher washer woman – and very little work!

Mr. Sharp did not have the chance to get ‘orged’ with the blonde you mentioned.

Enclosed you will find a souvenir which I know you will appreciate – the ‘gen’ as we received it on the 7th.

DRO’s just come in and say there will be a giant bonfire tonight, lit by the Group Captain – and community singing and a rum punch for all ranks.

Guess that’s all for the moment, Johnny – keep in touch – and, in the meantime, we all send our very best wishes for your success.

                                                                Good Luck


Enclosed with the letter was a teleprint of the 83 Group signal sent on 7th May to inform personnel of the German surrender. The teleprint was signed by Les Norman, Bernard “Taffy” Morgan* and three other of John’s ex-colleagues present at the time. It was, and is, a much-appreciated souvenir.

*Bernard Morgan and his copy of this signal featured in a Daily Mail article in January of this year

Reverse of signal teleprint about the German surrender, signed by 83 Group Control Centre colleagues. (Souvenir of John H Fenton)

John Fenton received his Commission in the Administrative and Special Duties (Code and Cypher) branch of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and flew out to the Far East in August 1945.