Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Last week I was fortunate to be included in the VIP briefing to the Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight on the D-Day landings conducted at Southwick House, the site of Eisenhower's D-Day Headquarters. SH was built by the Earl of Southwick and sequestered by the military at the start of WW2 for the princely sum of $28,000 with the proviso that should they (the military) ever wish to quit the site it must be offered back to the family for the price paid and the grounds restored to their former glory - an almost impossible task as they are now covered by numerous multi-storied buildings - but I digress.

The House is now the Officers Mess for the Southwick Park Garrison and, as it is sited on an operational base, it is not open to the public. It is a beautiful building in the classic Georgian style. In this photo I am standing on the lawn where, after receiving the briefing from Gp Capt Stagg, his senior meteorological advisor, Ike went out from the Map Room (more later), smoked a cigarette, went back inside and said "OK, we'll go".

Entering SH you proceed to a very grand atrium with a magnificent staircase as shown on the next photo.

To the left of the atrium is the Map Room preserved exactly as it was at 5.25am on D-Day when the first troops went ashore. The map you see has it's own tale on intrigue. Some four months before D-Day the military let a contract to the Chad Toy Company of Birmingham to produce a wooden map in two foot squares covering the whole of the UK and continental Europe. When it was finished it was loaded on a truck and along with two workmen dispatched to SH to put the whole thing together.

When they got there the two workmen were told to assemble the south of England and Normandy bit and bin the rest and 'Oh by the way, you now know too much so it's into the cells with you and you remain incommunicado until D-Day" .... and that's the truth. You can perhaps imagine the conversation somewhere 'oooooop north' .... wonder why Fred is so late, I saved him an extra portion of chips for his 70th birthday. Just then a knock at the door when answered produced a man in a trilby .... sorry Mrs Smith, you Fred is helping the war effort and you will see him again when you see him .... Keith Locke would have kittens,

The long shaded portion running down mid channel depicts the continuous German minefield. The invasion fleet sailed right through previously cleared lanes.

On the left hand side of the map are Gp Capt Stagg's weather maps detailing the 48 hour break which gave Ike the confidence to give the 'Go'.

The final photograph is of an oil painting showing the Map Room at H-Hour on D-Day.

One final bit of history. I always thought the invasion was US dominated. In point of fact, of the 4126 ships in the invasion fleet 79% were British or Canadian .... and when the decision was made to postpone the invasion by 24 hours with many ships already at see and some through the minefield, the turn around was achieved in conditions of absolute radio silence and the Germans didn't pick anything up. Incredible.

A morning well spent and thank you to Colonel John Baber, MBE, Regimental Secretary RMP


Anonymous said...

Canada had the 3rd. largest Navy at that time..


The Realist said...

Fantastic, Vet