D-day preparations confuse allies and enemies

10:30 06 June 2014

Subaltern Nancy Bowstead (nee Owen)

Subaltern Nancy Bowstead (nee Owen)

Archant

Preparations for the Normandy landings on this day 70 years ago caused confusion for ally and foe alike as British, American and Canadian forces readied themselves to retake Europe.

Nancy Bowstead was a war substantive subalertern, defending Wales from airborne enemies with the artillery when ‘Operation Neptune’ took place.

Remembered decades on as D-Day, the servicewoman’s first insight into the mission came when, as the eldest grandchild, she was granted leave to return in early May to Lancashire for her grandmother’s funeral.

En route through the valleys she was puzzled – the verges beside a vast stretch of the railway were lined with new, but seemingly abandoned, army vehicles.

On her return five days later, the tanks and trucks remained, still with no one guarding them.

She mentioned the sighting to her officer colleagues, who thought the forces must be getting ready for something.

“Perhaps we are about to do something drastic,” they told her.

But then, with the summer months approaching and the nights getting shorter, the Germans had less cover to use and the war quietened down, at least for the artillery.

That was until one sunny evening, when Nancy was sat out in the officers’ mess lining the Bristol Channel from Cardiff to Pembroke, and as far as the eye could see – hundreds of boats, big and small.

Yet, there wasn’t a light, not a sound.

The convoy’s silence continued through the night, and the servicemen and women awoke to find the ‘graveyard’ empty once more, gone from under their very noses.

Gossip established that the boats would not be travelling up-river to Stratford, so they could only be going up the English Channel or into the Mediterranean – and that’s exactly what the Allies wanted their enemies to think.

So, while German command fell for the ploy and deployed its best forces to the south of France, British, American and Canadian forces were attacking the north.

They landed in droves on the beaches of Normandy, stopping for nothing in an advancement that proved pivotal in turning the tide of the war.

British forces paid a heavy toll for the attack, taking the brunt of the retaliation when the Germans realised they had been duped.

It is a mission burned into the consciousnesses of those involved, and even those like Nancy who were more remote.

“How many other people saw them? It’s a memory I will never forget,” said the nonagenarian.

Now an avid advocate for Blind Veterans UK, she spent eight months knitting an enormous flag for the charity’s 75th anniversary.

Nancy is a member of Sidmouth’s branch of the Royal British Legion, with whom she attended a royal garden party on Wednesday.

Residents can reflect on the D-Day landings in a service at Sidmouth’s war memorial led by the Reverend Philip Bourne at 9.45am today (Friday).

1 comment

  • My mum, passed away last week and I've been looking up her past for the funeral. She was a WAAF stationed in Sidmouth. The night of the DDAY landings she and her fellow WAAFs were locked into their rooms (don't know which hotel they had commandeered) and told not to go out, open the windows or let anyone in. The next day the beaches and roads were empty. She later realised that the men knew something was up the the officers were worried that the men would be looking for a last night standfling before possible death so locked up all the young beauties! I'll scan in a photo soon and upload it. Her name was Muriel Gunnell.

    Report this comment

    Elizabeth Allford

    Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

Other News Stories

Yesterday, 16:37
Sidmouth Lifeboat

Sidmouth Lifeboat launched this afternoon (Wednesday) following concerns for the safety of two adults and five children.

Read more
Yesterday, 11:48

Gypsies are being blocked from occupying land that adjoins East Devon’s Pebblebed Heaths in an ‘unprecedented’ move to protect the environmentally sensitive area.

Read more
Yesterday, 10:45
The murals at Sidmouth swimming pool car park. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 5931-09-14AW

A full complement of murals depicting life in our seaside resort is in place thanks to the hard work of Sidmouth College artists.

Read more
Yesterday, 09:25

Police are carrying out enquiries following a vehicle blaze in the early hours of this morning.

Read more
Yesterday, 06:55
John Vinnicombe with his son Mark on their farmland near Ottery St Mary. Ref sho 4774-30-15SH. Picture: Simon Horn

A farmer is warning people to be aware of potential dangers on public footpaths after he said a runner caused his cattle to stampede.

Read more
Tue, 15:55
Chris Tucker with the sign for The Mermaid Bar

Forgetting any mythical connotations, mention of The Mermaid evokes one thing for a certain generation – flares, groovy tunes and the most happening place in town.

Read more
Tue, 11:06
an overflowing rubbish bin at Newton Poppleford playing fields. Ref shs 3132-29-15AW. Picture: Alex Walton

A volunteer who helped secure funding for Newton Poppleford’s play park says parents have a ‘social and moral responsibility’ to clear-up their rubbish.

Read more
Graham Liverton has been a Sidmouth town councillor for 30 years

Sidmouth’s longest-serving town councillor has resigned after 30 years’ service because he found it ‘impossible’ to deal with colleagues who ‘publicly humiliated’ his wife.

Read more
Mon, 12:15
Emily Davis of Silver Street tattoos in Ottery with the new design. Ref sho 1469-30-15TI. Picture: Terry Ife

A pair of tattooists will be holding a unique fundraising event to help a cause that is close to their hearts.

Read more
Mon, 10:04
The Red Arrows performing their spectacular display over Sidmouth ten years ago. Ref shs 9920-36-04. Picture: Simon Horn.

The Red Arrows could be secured for next year if every Sid Valley resident gave just £1.

Read more

Local Weather

Partly Cloudy

Partly Cloudy

max temp: 17°C

min temp: 11°C

Most Read News

Great British Life


Great British Life

Family notices
Advertise in the paper
Submit a Story
Submit a Story
Buy Photos
Competitions
iwitness24
Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus Page
Reader Travel

Family Notices 24

Digital Edition

Image
Read the Sidmouth Herald e-edition today E-edition



Devon's trusted business finder