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On the 20th March 2020 we'd raised £770 with 8 supporters in 90 days. But as every pound matters, we're continuing to collect donations from supporters.
An educational heritage project commemorating the top-secret history of D-Day for schools, veterans, unknown soldiers + a grateful nation.
by Overlord Heritage in Shipston On Stour, England, United Kingdom
On the 20th March 2020 we'd raised £770 with 8 supporters in 90 days. But as every pound matters, we're continuing to collect donations from supporters.
Help us raise £22,094 for this education project for schools, WWII veterans, unknown soldiers and a grateful nation.
We intend to map, mark on the landscape and explain the locations of abandoned engineering of Operation Overlord. To memorialize the names of all our allies, both men and women, and those brothers in arms who never went home.
What makes our project important?
Built in secret, hidden from prying eyes in the heart of the English countryside. Unexplained even by large-scale Ordnance Survey maps, but still visible beneath verdant moss. Mysterious roads leading to nowhere. Weeds trying to reclaim concrete and tarmac, looking like airport taxiways serving no apparent purpose. Pipelines, camouflaged reservoirs, archaeological evidence buried in the earth for three quarters of a century - a rusty spanner from a Sherman tank toolkit, a live fifty calibre round (still dangerous).
The secret history of Operation Overlord, the evidence of the greatest struggle in our island story, is being forgotten beneath our feet. More egregious – the names of those who died to ensure final victory; leading to the longest period of peace in Europe for 2,000 years, are absent from our memorials.
They have become unknown soldiers.
This has never been done before.
Films, books and articles about D-Day have more often concentrated on what happened when the allies hit the Normandy beaches and the campaigns fought afterwards. Much less detail has been documented about what took place in the United Kingdom in the build up to D-Day, largely because this was carried out in the utmost secrecy.
These places have never before been mapped, let alone comprehensively explained. Yet there is not a single corner of the United Kingdom where evidence of Operation Overlord cannot be found.
By D-Day, 6th June 1944, over1, 200 towns and villages throughout the UK hosted 11,071 American Army units comprising 3 million servicemen and women.
Commonwealth forces from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies boosted this total to over 2,300 locations. Add in Free Forces from France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Luxembourg and the total rises to over 3,000 locations in Great Britain.
This is surely the most important chapter in our heritage?
Soon, all the eyewitnesses will have passed away, many of whom were children then. For our children and future generations, we believe that this history should be told.
My name is Michael Rainsberry. I was born at R.A.F Khormaksar, Aden. My father later served at R.A.F Moreton-in-Marsh (Bomber Command), after which he became a vicar and history teacher. My mother was a nurse in the Red Cross. Maybe this is why WWII history is in my DNA.
I had my own award winning Marketing & Special Events business in London for 20 years. I have a successful track record of managing special projects, often with a historical content.
I want to share the amazing discoveries that have been made about the hidden history of Operation Overlord and to teach the young about what took place on their doorstep. This is the best way to ensure that this history is understood, valued and conserved by future generations.
75 years after D-Day, and with access to de-classified documents, the names of the many thousands of men and women who came from all over the world to help Europe in the hour of greatest need can now be known. They integrated happily into our British communities – all truly welcomed, irrespective of race, language, gender or creed. They fought as our friends and allies to liberate Europe.
So many never made it home.
There is no longer any reason to treat them as unknown soldiers. With your help, Overlord Heritage is going to do something about this.
According to the Imperial War Museum in London, there are over 88,000 war memorials in the United Kingdom. Most were created after the First World War – up to that time, the deadliest conflict in human history.
Great Britain and her Dominions lost over 744,000 soldiers in what is still called The Great War. Every city, every town and the smallest hamlet contributed lives to a lost generation. It was as an expression of national mourning and trauma that these war memorials were built after 1918 and throughout the 1920’s.
The ‘War to End all Wars’ rang hollow when once again the world plunged into global conflict in 1939. During WWII, Britain and the Commonwealth lost over 383,700 servicemen and women. In due course, these names would be added to the War Memorials already built.
Many War Memorials proclaim that they were built by public subscription or ‘CrowdFunding’. Often inscribed are words penned by Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, who lost his son John in The Great War.
- Lest We Forget.
Kipling’s words are an entreatment, a reminder, a cautionary warning. It’s a message to future generations that the names carved with pride into stone, marble or bronze are there in case we forget that peace and security should never be taken for granted. That we should never settle into comfortable ignorance of our history.
…and yet it seems that Kipling’s words are going unheeded.
This idea first began on a sunny spring day in 2013 on a visit to Wellesbourne, Warwickshire. Although I was born in Aden, my father was still a serving officer in the Royal Air Force. The heat of Arabia was exchanged for the lush greenery of England when he was posted to R.A.F Wellesbourne-Mountford. We lived in a rented farm cottage near the town. I can still picture him in his Air Force Blue uniform going to work in his Austin Cambridge. One day I was taken with him and remember being saluted by white-gloved guards as we drove through the main gate.
On that spring day in 2013, I met a New Zealander who was visiting the UK. He was on a quest to find the place where his father, Flying Officer Blake, served at R.A.F Wellesbourne-Mountford, No. 22 Operational Training Unit (OTU) of 91 Group, in WWII.
On the night of 30th / 31st May 1942, the first Thousand Bomber Raid took place against Cologne (1,047 aircraft actually took part).
Twenty-Five Wellington Bombers with their student aircrews were sent from R.A.F Wellesbourne and it’s satellite station, R.A.F Stratford-on-Avon. Three aircraft failed to return from 22 OTU. His father was one of those who never made it home to New Zealand.
The only commemoration he had found was a brass plaque in St. Peters Church, Wellesbourne (below). It had been placed there by dedicated enthusiasts from the Wellesbourne Wartime Museum.
The plaque commemorates the 315 airmen and airwomen of No. 22 OTU who lost their lives in WWII. His visit to the satellite station of RAF Stratford-on-Avon had proved just as fruitless. No commemoration of any kind could be found there, despite the fact that the men and women killed included those from both R.A.F stations.
I remember feeling a degree of shame and regret. All these young men and women, some of whom have headstones at their graves, others for whom there is no known grave, have not been acknowledged by name at the locations where they served.
The same feeling took hold when I discovered that a Flying Fortress had crashed in December 1944 within sight of my childhood bedroom window. Eight American airmen had died and yet no acknowledgment had taken place in 70 years. Similarly at Moreton-in-Marsh in the Cotswolds, home of the 6th Armoured Division in 1944 and where the 15th and 69th Tank Battalions were encamped just outside the town. 197 men from these units were killed in action in Normandy and the Liberation of Europe. Yet no acknowledgement of their names has ever been made.
When researching the UK encampments of our other allies – the Free Belgians at Tenby in Wales, the Canadians throughout Surrey and the Australians in Wiltshire, the list of unacknowledged and unknown soldiers goes on and on.
The task ahead was clear.
By June 1945 there were over 17,345 Army Medical Corps Nurses from the U.S.A in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO). From the British Commonwealth came 680 nurses from the New Zealand Women’s Army Nursing Service and 500 members of the New Zealand Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.
Canada contributed the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, the Royal Canadian Air Force Medical Branch and the Royal Canadian Naval Medical Service amounting to 4,480 women. The Australian Army Nursing Service, the Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service and the Royal Australian Naval Nursing Service sent over 4,000 women.
From the British West Indies, 680 women volunteered to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Army Medical corps.
During the Second World War, approximately 600,000 women served in the three British women's auxiliary services: the Auxiliary Territorial Service, (their most notable recruit being H.M. The Queen, (pictured above) the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, (WAAFs) and the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS).
The nursing corps was one of the largest cohorts, encompassing the QAs, (Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps) and the Army, Navy and Air Force medical branches.
Often uncounted in military statistics, were the volunteer organisations such as the British Red Cross Society who provided staff for a variety of roles, including medical care. The International Red Cross despatched 20 million food parcels to allied P.O.Ws, which staved off starvation for so many. The American Ambulance Great Britain service performed a vital role during the Blitz, 1940-41 (badge shown above).
The American Red Cross Service ran dozens of Rest Homes located in country houses throughout Britain. They were known as ‘Flak Shacks’ and provided respite from the constant psychological strain of 8th Air Force personnel flying daylight combat missions over occupied Europe. Today we would call this PTSD. There were over 26,000 American flyers killed. All are memorialised in the United States.
R.A.F Bomber Command lost 55, 573 aircrew, all volunteers, who were ordered on 'Ops' over occupied Europe. It took 67 years to publically memorialise this sacrifice in our capital city.
The U.S. Army postal service in WWII relied almost exclusively on African American female GIs who joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), (pictured below)
The 150,000 women released the equivalent of 7 divisions of men for combat duty. The WACs of the postal service performed a vital role. General Dwight D. Eisenhower said of them:
"their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable".
The postal service was a vital mainstay of army morale. It was a huge task to sort and deliver mail to and from the United States for the 3 million Americans based in Britain and Europe during WWII. Whatever happened, the mail always had to get through to the coldest foxhole and the most dangerous of battlefields.
The 139th U.S Army Postal Unit was based in Banbury, Oxfordshire from May 1944. They would have sorted and despatched thousands of the last letters ever sent home just before Overlord. These women also carried out the task of returning mail to friends and family in the USA whose intended recipients in the ETO would never read them.
Overlord Heritage intends to place a commemorative plaque at the location in Banbury where these women lived in segregated, tented accommodation. We also intend to place plaques at all the other locations where so many women served in WWII.
Dense woodland has since been planted across the concrete foundations of a former WWII military hospital in the middle of Gloucestershire. It provided care for 500 patients and had its own aircraft landing strip. It was here that a 34-year-old army surgeon from Osceola, Iowa, Lieutenant-Colonel Dwight Emary Harken, carried out pioneering heart surgery on the battlefield casualties being shipped back from Normandy in 1944.
What Harken, his medical team and his nursing staff achieved, almost all of whom were women, represented a major breakthrough in medical science and cardio-thoracic surgery.
Of the 134 patients admitted with chest wounds, bullets and shrapnel embedded in their hearts, Harken did not lose a single case. He and his team also developed the concept of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) that has since been adopted by hospitals all over the world.
Overlord Heritage proposes to install a plaque at this site in recognition of what took place in the heart of Gloucestershire in 1944-45.
Criticism of pioneering is always the tool of men frustrated by their own inability to create. Dwight E. Harken
The Aviation Engineers then built the first landing strips above the Normandy beaches in June 1944, in record time. Just as fast, they held the distinction of conceiving the first ever ‘GI’ baby born to Anglo-American parents in the European Theatre of Operations in WWII.
Constructing runways on the frontline was not without risk. Four of them were killed, - Joseph Kazwara of Illinois, Salvatore Castelli from New York, Elmer Uitto from Washington state and Charles Adams of Idaho. Their names are absent from the village war memorial nearby.
Overlord Heritage has exciting ideas for schools. For very young children we are proposing to introduce the Overlord Colouring Book with a quiz all about D-Day. It will be based on the famous Overlord Embroidery that can be seen at the D-Day Story Museum in Portsmouth.
There will be a special section where children are encouraged to find out from their grandparents and perhaps great grandparents, oral histories, memories and even photographs taken before D-Day and during WWII. These can then be submitted online to the official archive collections of the D-Day Story Museum.
We also intend to help organise School Field Trips to the Overlord Heritage sites we have discovered near to schools. Also to help with School Trips to the D-Day Story Museum in Portsmouth.
One of the most exciting ideas of all is to work with Airfix to introduce after school Model Clubs. Project Airfix is all about inspiring the engineers of the future. Model making gives children a valuable life skill set, whilst at the same time igniting a passion for history.
The Project Airfix ‘School Packs’ comprise a large collection of model kits on the theme of D-Day and Operation Overlord. Children will be able to make whole squadrons of aircraft, or platoons of Hobart’s Funnies.
Overlord Heritage is very experienced at making things happen when it comes to inspiring the young. The key is to get the ball rolling in the first place.
Another exciting idea is to organize a school competition to build model D-Day beach dioramas. Airfix would sponsor this and we’ll ask James May to be the judge. We’ve done this kind of thing many times before.
Building scale models of invasion beaches with model tanks is nothing new of course. The Germans built them, as did the 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion of the U.S. Army based at Tetbury in Gloucestershire.
The American scale dioramas (pictured below) reproduced a huge level of detail of the invasion beaches and the terrain hinterland. This was a vital training aid for the Ranger Battalions and other units who went ashore on Omaha. This how the Americans, who became pinned down and in danger of total annihilation, eventually got off the beach.
It was due to the leadership of Major General “Dutch” Cota. He landed in the second wave and knew the exact location of the draw that became the life saving exit off Bloody Omaha. He had studied the beach dioramas of Omaha and knew exactly where he was going.
It was a privilege to be invited to speak to a class of 8-year-old pupils at Great Rollright Church of England Primary School. The topic was the crash of a B-17G Flying Fortress on 23rd December 1944, in which 8 American airmen were killed. It happened 1,000 yards from their school.
A beautiful scale model of an Airfix B-17G Flying Fortress was shown to the children and passed around. We then recreated the interior layout of a Flying Fortress in the classroom - where the crew sat and the various duties they carried out. Nine children were soon operating a Flying Fortress. Each child represented a crew member, the lost Americans were David Williams the Bombardier, Joe Kilmer the Navigator, Clifford Hendrickson the Pilot, Walter Graves the Co-Pilot, George Bruer the Aircraft Engineer, Robert Riedel the Radio Operator, George Hawley the Waist Gunner, Ted Fitzgerald the Ball Turret Gunner and finally Clifford Heinrich the Tail Gunner.
It was wonderful to see that the children were instinctively gender neutral during this exercise. A girl played the part of the Pilot and the Aircraft Engineer for example and the boys did not feel they were pre-ordained to man the machine guns. This Flying Fortress was a mixed crew in every sense. Before long the children knew what a Bombsight was, the Ball Turret (inspiration for the TIE Fighters of Star Wars) and a 50-calibre machine gun.
The story of the ‘812’ (the serial number of the aircraft) then unfolded. The mission target, the reason why this was necessary during the Battle of the Bulge, the need for constant vigilance of enemy fighters, etc. Then came the final few moments of the 812 as it flew over their school in darkness and fog during the last Christmas of the war.
The class were shown where ‘their’ aircraft came to grief, which happened to be on their school nature trail. Each child was then told if they had survived. One-by-one, with due solemnity, 8 children went back to their places in the classroom. Finally one child was left. - the Tail Gunner, Clifford Heinrich. The much-relieved child was glad to see a recent photograph of the 90-year-young Clifford Heinrich at his home in Missouri, USA.
One of the outstanding heroes of this fatal Christmas night in 1944 was Army Nurse Megan Lewis. A former member of the QA’s, she was working at Great Rollright Manor. Megan heard and felt the aircraft fly past the windows. She rushed to the scene, dived into the wreckage and pulled the sole survivor – 19-year-old Clifford Heinrich clear, thereby saving his life. Megan Lewis was awarded a King’s Commendation for Bravery by King George VI, signed by Winston Churchill (see left).
Pieces of aircraft wreckage recovered from the crash site - perspex (plexiglas) aluminium and steel were also passed around the class. Keen interest was shown in the live 50 calibre round that had been snapped in two by successive ploughing in the field for over 70 years. The corroded brass case still contained viable propellant, a kind of dark silver ‘hundreds & thousands’ that had been buried in the ground for so long.
As it was so soon after Fireworks Night, November 5th, and with the teachers consent, a small sample of 50-calibre propellant was ignited.
The resultant burst of flame, the cloud of smoke and the distinctive smell of cordite filled the classroom and set fire to the imagination of the children.
The totally unexpected letters of appreciation received after this WWII lecture were proof positive that children this young are enthusiastic and passionate about their history - and they all wanted to make their own model Flying Fortress.
They do care about the past and understand that the peace and security they might once have taken for granted comes at a price.…and that this all happened within their great grandparent’s lifetime, on their own doorstep.
These are made in England, and are of architectural enamalized steel. The enamel ensures that the colour artwork designs are guaranteed to survive all weathers, they’ll never oxidize and never fade in the sun. Should they ever be damaged, they can be replaced.
The plaques are designed to be set into stone, concrete or wood. The more we raise via our CrowdFunder, the more plaques can be created and installed. Our initial target is 20 plaques costing £7,489.
Everybody involved in the project, including our donors, will receive regular updates about plaque installations and special VIP invitations to unveiling events, many of which will be international in nature as WWII allied nations will be represented. Some of these will be very special occasions as descendants of those commemorated on the plaques will be present.
This is how the plaques are made: http://www.ajwells.com/aj-wells-film.aspx
One of the most important elements of the Overlord Heritage project is to build a searchable website and database of all the allied units based in the United Kingdom prior to D-Day.
The 3 million American servicemen and women comprised 11, 071 separate units stationed at 1, 203 towns and villages throughout the country. The Canadian forces numbered 1.1 million servicemen and women and were heavily concentrated in the county of Surrey and southern England.
The military personnel sent to the U.K by the Dominions of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies, were matched by the escaped allied forces from occupied Europe, including Free French, Free Dutch, Free Poles, Free Belgians, Free Luxembourgers, Free Czechs, Free Norwegians and Free Greeks.
Overlord Heritage has taken American visitors on pilgrimages to sites and locations in the UK that have a very special significance for them. For some, this is where their grandfathers breathed their last. They have left flowers at air crash sites and army campsites.
Overlord Heritage intends to mark these important locations so that the millions of descendants of the Greatest Generation, from so many nations, can find these places and make their own emotional journeys.
They can stand in the exact spot where their grandfathers stood. They can walk down the same country lanes and take the same short cut down a Public Footpath to the local dance hall – it’s all still here.
They can order a drink in the very same Pubs that their fathers would have used. These Pubs and Hotels are still known by the same names and are largely unchanged inside.
This project offered rewards