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29 October 2014

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    People's War
    D-Day revisited
    Les Dinning
    Les Dinning with a replica of his tank on the Desert Rats memorial

    Les Dinning was only just 18 years old when he took part in one of the most daring missions in history. Now, 60 years on, he's returning to the Normandy beach where he landed in June 1944.

    audio Listen to Nigel Hill from Twinwood

    D-Day revisited

    "May the fathers long tell the children" - St John Fisher School project

    People's War and D-Day anniversary events

    People's War Roadshow in Bedford

    Tank power

    Memories of a war baby

    War child: giving something back

    Vauxhall to the rescue

    Living with the enemy

    The Glenn Miller mystery

    The secret war in Milton Keynes

    World War Two poetry

    How Bedfordshire fooled the Germans!


    Les Dinning Website

    D-Day information

    The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.


    The WW2 People's War Website aims to capture and preserve for future generations the personal and family stories of the people who lived and fought in World War Two. This is an opportunity to leave a legacy so that the sacrifices of the war can be better understood.

    The Website enables you to write about World War Two, discuss the stories that you read, reunite with others and research the war generation.

    The WW2 People's War Team rely on you, the online community, to provide authentic stories and constructive feedback.

    get in contact
    If you missed the special broadcast from Normandy on BBC Three Counties Radio on Friday 4 June 2004 you can listen to the programme again using the links below.

    On the 6th June, 1944, the Allies began the liberation of Europe with the most daring amphibious mission in history.

    Codenamed Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings along the Normandy Coast marked the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime.

    About D-Day
    The attack, called Neptune, was due to take place on 5 June, but bad weather meant it had to be postponed by 24 hours.

    Les Dinning
    Les as a young soldier in 1945
    See aerial pictures of the landings >>

    Shortly after midnight, the first allied soldiers went in. Three airborne divisions, the US 82nd & 101st, and the British 6th, were sent in by parachute and glider, to secure the flanks of the beaches, take strategic positions, such as the now famous Pegasus Bridge, and to cause confusion among the enemy.

    By now, a vast fleet of 7,000 allied ships was beginning to amass at a point in the English Channel - codenamed Piccadilly Circus.

    At 6.30am, the first landing craft began their assault, under the cover of a massive naval bombardment, aimed at the German defences.

    They landed on a 40 mile stretch of coast, split into five beaches. The Americans landed on Utah and Omaha beaches, the Canadians on Juno, and the British on Gold and Sword.

    The attack took the Germans completely by surprise. Clever deception by the Allies meant the German High Command was expecting an invasion to take place much further away near Calais, and General Rommel, who was in charge of defending the German Atlantic wall, was hundreds of miles away in Stuttgart for his wife's birthday when the invasion began.

    Les Dinning
    Les and a landing craft in June 2004
    See aerial pictures of the landings >>

    Despite ferocious resistance on Omaha beach, by midnight on D-Day, the allies had secured the beach head. 57 000 US, and 75 000 British and Canadian soldiers had made it ashore.

    The counter-attack never properly came. Panzer divisions based nearby were held back, and German reinforcements were delayed. It was a crucial error by the German Army, which allowed the allies to get more troops and equipment ashore.

    In the following weeks, the allies established an unstoppable force, which ultimately led to the end of the war in Europe.

    Les Dinning
    Les Dinning was a gunner with the 7th Armoured Division - the legendary Desert Rats - and landed at Gold Beach on D-Day.

    Les, who now lives in Milton Keynes, joined the army aged 16, after saying that he was a year older than he actually was! He had only just turned 18 when he landed in France on 6th June 1944.

    He began service with the Desert Rats aged 17, when he joined the 4th County of London Yeomanry on the 16 February 1944 in High Ash Wood, Thetford Forest.

    He was stationed there between January and May 1944 while they prepared for the invasion of Normandy.

    Les Dinning
    Les in Berlin in 1945

    The Division sailed from Felixstowe on the 5 June 1944 with the first tanks landing on Gold Beach on the evening of 6th June.

    Les returned to Normandy for the first time since the invasion in 1993 and admits that it was a rather strange experience as he hadn't really spoken about it much before.

    "Going back to the beach for the first time the memories came flooding back" he says.

    "As I stood on the beach it all came back to me."

    "When I was demobbed in 1947 I was one of hundreds of thousands. It was all water under the bridge and we didn't talk about it" he continues.

    "Eventually I found out that I had to talk about it and now you can't stop me!"

    Fond memories
    He admits that while it was a bad situation to be in, he is also able to look back fondly on that time.

    "It was a pretty horrible situation but there were lots of happy times too" he explains.

    "We were friends. The tank was our home and we lived as a family."

    He also recalls living on rations and making tea at every opportunity.

    "Everytime we stopped we brewed tea" he says. "It became standard procedure. The water boiled in minutes and we were soon standing around with pint pots of tea - and this happened in action!"

    There were bad memories too though.

    "My worst memory is when my two colleagues were killed in the turret (of the tank). We were hit by a bazooka while trying to keep a road open."

    But Les is very clear when asked about what his abiding memory is.

    "It was just before we got to L'Azure" he says. "We had just broken through and we were pushing up through France.

    Bayeaux Cemetary
    The inscription at Bayeaux Cemetary
    See aerial pictures of the landings >>

    "We'd had a hard day's fighting but it was a beautiful evening. I was the Gunner sitting in the turret and as we started to go down the road into the town I heard church bells.

    "It was the first time I'd heard church bells in France. The town was still occupied but the bells were ringing out. I always remember that."

    It was his trip in 1993 that really got Les recalling the events of 1944 and led to him being responsible for setting up a memorial to the Desert Rats.

    This can be found about two miles north of Mundford in Norfolk, at the entrance to the original camp sites occupied by the 4th County of London Yeomanry, and the 1st and 5th Royal Tank Regiments in 1944.

    Now, 60 years later, Les returned with BBC Three Counties Radio to the very beach where he landed.

    As part of the events to mark the anniversary, they went back to the town of Arromanche.

    You can hear about his trip on Friday 4 June, using the links below.


    Have you been to the Normandy beaches? Have you been told about your family's wartime involvement? Maybe you were even there in 1944. Why not tell us all about your memories and experiences.

    Aerial pictures
    The aerial pictures below are of the D-Day landings at Arromanche (Gold Beach) and are reproduced with the kind permission of The Aerial Reconnaissance Archives

    When these photos were taken by RAF reconnaissance crews, they were sent to the Allied Central Interpretation Unit (ACIU) at Medmenham in Buckinghamshire, where they were studied by analysts.

    During World War II, the ACIU was the headquarters of photographic intelligence. Like the code-breakers at Bletchley Park, the photographic-interpreters played a key role in winning the war. No kind of attack, be it a bombing raid, the landing of a few men on a beach or the landing of an army, was possible without the preparation of target material at the ACIU.


    Find out more about the BBC WW2 People's War Roadshow

    Read more World War II stories from the area

    your comments

    Lindsay guiver, Wellingborough Saturday, 05-Jun-2004 07:38:19 BST
    That's my dad (Les), what a great show, is there any way we can have a copy of the recording for Dad as we have friends and relatives who live outside the area and do not have access to the internet. Also my brother Andrew Dinning lives in Germany and we would love him to hear this broadcast. I was driving my van while the broadcast was on and I was bursting with pride thinking thats my Dad !!

    Jan Wharton, Hitchin Saturday, 05-Jun-2004 12:33:32 BST
    It was a great show - thanks to Martyn and Lee. I was amazed that Les and the other veterans who rang in during the programme said they had no fear at the start, just excitement and wanting to get on with their task. I was a young child at the time of D-Day and now I realise the sacrifices made by each and everyone who carried out the invasion into Europe. And when Les stood with Martyn in the cemetery and said "I feel guilty.. why them and not me" it was a very emotional moment... I want to tell him that I owe my life to him and so many others, and for that I will be eternally grateful.


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