The D-Day landings were a turning point in World War ll which ultimately led to the victory of the Allied Forces in 1945. The German army tightly held control in Western Europe and by 1944 had forced nations across the world to take sides and commit their resources and people to the conflict.
The United States, Canada and the British Empire had formulated a plan of attack to take back a foothold of Northern France which would give them the chance to force back the Germany army and suppress their continued progress.
They had been planning the detail of this assault for over a year and it came under the title Operation Overlord. The initial actions were codenamed Operation Neptune and were to become known as D-Day. This took place on 6th June 1944 across five beaches on the Normandy coast. The Germans suspected an attack was mounting but the Allies effectively distracted their defence with various decoys.
75 years later a group of 36 Army Cadets from Cumbria, aged 13 – 18 travelled to visit the sites of conflict and sacrifice made by men not much older than themselves.
Last week, the cadets from Cumbria Army Cadet Force joined with 500 other Army Cadets from across the UK to commemorate and learn about what happen on that historic day and hear the stories of a few individual heroes who gave everything to support and protect their comrades and their future.
Crossing to Calais and heading down to Normandy the cadets were living in the field and eating rations. There were limited comforts which brought more realism to the cadets’ experience. Groups of friends had travelled together on the trip and they had also made new friends from the shared participation in the visit.
The Army Cadets firstly visited Point du Hoc, a cliff top outcrop where US Rangers were tasked to climb 30m up a vertical sea cliff before battling the German troops above them.
Without this action the 155mm Howitzer Guns would have further devastated the surrounding attacks on the five beaches; Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword later that day.
The cadets walked out onto Gold beach, where yellow sand now hides the chaos that once invaded its shores when British troops came ashore here 75 years ago. CSM Stanley Hollis had been awarded the Victoria Cross in acknowledgement for his brave acts at Gold Beach and into the immediate farm lands which saved the lives of many men on D-Day.
He was the only recipient of the VC during the landing stage of the invasion. The cadets were amazed to look down upon Omaha beach, recognised as the opening footage of the Saving Private Ryan film. Seeing the shear length and challenging of the terrain was evident in their minds.
When visiting the Pegasus Museum, they learnt about the assault and capture of the Pegasus Bridge. The Allies’ mission was to take control of the bridge, preventing assistance to the German forces gaining access to the Normandy coastline. At Pegasus Bridge, the grandfather and great grandfather of two cadets, LCPL Slater (Whitehaven) and Cpl Nesbitt (Barrow) were remembered.
Their ancestors had been involved in military operations in that area and they laid Poppies in remembrance of their family members at the landing site of the Airspeed Horsa gliders.
These gliders had been used to transport men from the 2nd (Airbourne) Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry along with thirty Royal Engineers over to Normandy to tactically position the Allied troops at the bridge, which they did with great accuracy.
The cadets were very interested in the resources and vehicles of the War, with four further Howitzers positioned at the Longues Batteries for the cadets to look at, moving also to see the bunkers at the head of the cliffs. It was a full day but the cadets remained focused and alert to the information given by the historian guide, Major Heron.
Towards the close of the tour the cadets watched a film about D-Day and World War ll in a 360 degree cinema. The cadets were surrounded by the sights and sounds of the footage of the conflict and political angles.
The final act of remembrance was holding a Commemorative Parade at Arromanches. Cumbria ACF’s senior cadet, Cadet RSM Smillie was given the honour of being senior cadet on the parade. A calm and respectful service upon the cliff tops overlooking The Mulberry Harbours.
The Army Cadet youth organisation teaches young people about independence and enables them to develop their confidence using the values and standards of the British Army. The cadets learnt of acts of courage and selfless commitment carried out by soldiers on D-Day who were exhausted and challenged by the sheer force of the German troops.
They faced physically demanding terrain under the most frightening of conditions yet they managed to motivate themselves and keep going to ensure they completed their mission and fought for the freedom they believed in.
One of the greatest values we teach as an organisation is discipline. Integrated with respect for others the cadets are able to lift their standards, take responsibility for themselves and their actions in support of their team members.
Captain Rachel Diss commented about the cadets: “This group of Army Cadets, learning about this one day in the history of the Second World War and in doing so demonstrated the utmost respect and interest in the soldiers who had fought for them.
“They gained so much more from this educational experience having been there, seen the ground and the coastal challenges and listened to the stories about the heroes who had fought on D Day and the campaign which followed. Myself and their adult volunteers were immensely proud of the maturity and integrity shown from these young citizens of Cumbria during this visit.”
The Army Cadet organisation aims to inspire young people to achieve their best in life, with a spirit of service to their Queen, their country and their local community.
“This visit certainly gave the army cadets and adult volunteers from Cumbria ACF an opportunity to be proud of their Armed Forces and the values that clearly defined their character on that day, D-Day. They went home with an understanding of history they will hopefully learn from for their generation’s future. We will remember them.
For further information on the Army Cadets and what they do please go to www.armycadets.com or call 01228 516222.