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D-Day Memories: Of a Child in Essex

by Keith Halley

Contributed by 
Keith Halley
People in story: 
Keith Halley
Location of story: 
Colchester, Essex, England
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 February 2004

Although I was not quite five-and-a-half years old, I was a very bright lad, and I have clear memories of the night before D-Day, June 6, 1944.

I was living with my mother and her family in Colchester, Essex, which is, of course, a short hop from Kent and the Straits of Dover. I remember my mother waking me during the night, and standing me on a washing basket by her bedroom window. The sky was filled with the noise of aircraft, some of which were passing in formation low overhead. Also, the sky was alight with flares being dropped - presumably by pathfinder aircraft signalling to squadrons forming up over North-East Essex.

I can clearly remember my mother saying, and I quote:-

"This is the invasion. This is something we've all be waiting for. This is the invasion of Europe. This is something you'll remember all your life."

Then she said:- "There goes another lot", as a flight of aircraft roared overhead at little more than rooftop height. I suspected (aged 5) that they might have been US Army Air Corps P47 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers - possibly from the airfield at nearby Langham, where we often used to watch them taking off and landing. We knew our aircraft in those days!

The only other D-Day memory I have is sitting at dinner (lunch) on June 6, and having to be very, very quiet. I can clearly remember sitting staring at the net curtain on the door between our living room and our family grocer's shop, and hearing the opening words on the BBC One o' Clock News: "Today is D-Day!"

I still didn't really know what it was all about, but I knew by the hushed reaction of the adults that something very important was happening. I'm just glad, now, that I have memories of part of it.

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Message 1 - D-Day Memories

Posted on: 22 March 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Keith

I read your story with great interest as it is an example of how our memories, which we believe to be genuine, can deceive us. It happens to all of us.

D-Day was a very closely guarded secret and very great and elaborate measures were taken to ensure that no hint of the date or time leaked out. This was a total success and the first announcement of the invasion was made by the BBC on the Home Service at 7.32 am on 6 June, about three hours after the German radio had announced it in Germany.

People had seen vehicles and troops massing for weeks in preparation for the invasion, but spoiler stories were constantly put out about elaborate exercises, and indeed excersises were constantly held. Few troops were in the Dover area. There an elaborate deception plan, Operation Bodyguard, was evolved to make the Germans believe that an invasion of the Calais area was imminent. Part of this plan involved even the Russians and the world was led to believe that no invasion would take place before July.

Kind regards,



Message 2 - D-Day Memories

Posted on: 21 September 2005 by Keith Halley

Dear Peter,

Sorry - I only picked up on your message yesterday. In fact, I have a very clear memories of D-Day and the night before, but these are not incompatible with your comments. The first mention of D-Day that I heard was on the BBC one-o'-clock news on June 6th - some hours after the time you gave. As to the "invasion" comments of my mother - we lived in Colchester, which was a huge armed camp. Nobody knew the date and time of the invasion, or where it would take place, but I imagine that it was obvious to just about everyone that it would happen sooner or later. Otherwise, why was everybody fighting WW2? I can recall easily whole conversations of those days - to most people's surprise. And I'm sure I wasn't mistaken!

Best wishes and kind regards,

Keith Halley


Message 3 - D-Day Memories

Posted on: 21 September 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Keith

I am sure that you are quite convinced of hearing the opening words on the BBC One o' Clock News: "Today is D-Day!".

However, the BBC news simply repeated the official reports.

On the morning of 6 June Mr Churchill made a statement to the House of Commons. He did not refer to Normandy at once but first announced that Rome had fallen, he then added, half way through his speech "I also have to announce to the House that during the night and the early hours of this morning the first of a series of landings in force on the European continent has taken place". This statement was released to the press and was broadcast on the BBC.

Then at 9.30 AM General Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters issued Communiqué No. 1. This was a short statement which said "Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the Northern coast of France". This missed the first editions but appeared in the evening papers. It was also repeated on the BBC news. Then at 9 pm the King broadcast to the nation on the BBC.

No-one used the term "D-Day", neither the BBC nor the British and American press, nor was it understood by civilians. 'D-Day' was then simply used in planning any landing, it was the Anglo-American staff term for day one of any operation, the following day being D+1, and so on.

For a long time the invasion was known either as the Normandy Landings or as the Second Front. As late as 1946 in the "Report by the Supreme Commander to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on Operations of the Allied Expeditionary Force" there is no mention of 'D-Day' as a term for the landings.


Peter Ghiringhelli


Message 4 - D-Day Memories

Posted on: 22 September 2005 by Keith Halley

Dear Peter,

Thank you for your reply, which was extremely interesting and informative. It is, of course, highly possible that the memories of a 5-year-old, 60 years later, could be mistaken!

At the lunch table that day was my uncle, Observer Officer Cyril Cooke, based at the Royal Observer Corps HQ at Colchester - presumably some form of sector HQ.

I wonder if he could have used the term D-Day when the one 'o clock news came on? That might explain the confusion.

Either way, I'm grateful for your detailed response, and I shall no longer dine out on that part of the story! I shall, however, be more knowledgeable about the background to the reports of the invasion!

Best wishes,

Keith Halley.


Message 5 - D-Day Memories

Posted on: 22 September 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


Not to drive home the matter, but for the WW2 permanent archive I have before me the front pages of four newspapers of 6 and 7 June 1944. An American paper, "The Detroit Free Express", 6 June Extra, has a simple banner headline taking up one third of the front page: "INVASION!" under which is splashed "SUPREME HEADQUARTERS, Allied Expeditionary Force - (AP) - Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarter announced Tuesday that Allied troops began landing on the northern coast of France Tuesday morning strongly supported by naval and air forces.".

The London "Evening Standard" of 6 June gives fuller coverage with "Churchill Announces Successful Massed Air Landings Behind Enemy in France" A sub-article is headed "'Tanks Ashore on Normandy Coast' - Says Berlin".

"The Times" of London made no mention of the landings on 6 June. It first reported them on Wednesday, 7 June, with the headline "GREAT ASSAULT GOING WELL". A sub-article is headed "Invasion Postponed For A Day".

The "Daily Mirror" of 7 June headlines "INVADERS THRUSTING INLAND", it carries four further sub-articles. The last on at the right foot of the page, in a minor position, is headed "Monday D-Day Held Up By Weather" The article reports that "The invasion was delayed twenty-four hours, it was revealed by S.H.A.E.F. last night. With his D-Day fixed for Monday morning, General Eisenhower was told by weather experts that conditions would be too bad. ... [there follows details of the weather] ... He took the decision to go in on Tuesday. ...". Here D-Day is used solely in its military sense and appears for the first and, apparently, last time before 1945.

Kind regards,
Peter Ghiringhelli

P.S. While checking these wartime newspapers I came across an interesting snippet in the "Daily Mail" for Wednesday, 20 September 1944, sub-headlined: "WAR OVER BY NOVEMBER 15". How wrong can you be?


Message 6 - D-Day Memories

Posted on: 24 September 2005 by Keith Halley

Dear Peter,

Thanks once again for putting me further in the picture about the use of the term "D-Day". I know that, on the night of the 5/6 June, as the aircraft were going overhead, my mother used the term "the invasion", which fits in with all you've said. It's just that I had such a clear memory the following day of hearing a reference to "D-Day". But, as you say, memories can play tricks!

Incidentally, nothing to do with D-Day, but I started school in Colchester during the first week of January 1943, and that day we all sat in the shelters during an air raid alert. I have a VERY clear memory (aged 4) of a teacher leading a rendering of "Ten Green Bottles", and of being given cocoa. I remember my mother saying "Huh - don't think you'll get that every day!"

I also saw (aged 3) the late Duke of Kent at Colchester Fire Station in 1942, shortly before he died in an air crash on Scaraben!

Best wishes,

Keith Halley.

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