These are the historic words from General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allies, that a battle-fatigued Britain – and the rest of the world – awoke to 75 years ago.
The largest amphibious assault ever mounted, Operation Overlord was, ultimately, a turning point in the Second World War and would finally lead to the surrender of the Nazis the following May.
Yet, even on this fateful day in 1944, few soldiers on the frontline – or relatives at home anxiously waiting for news – had any comprehension of the mission’s magnitude.
The personal toll was encapsulated by Ernie Pyle, the legendary American war correspondent, who offered this eye-witness account of the bloodshed on the beaches 24 hours after the initial invasion. “Human litter extends in a thin little line, just like a high water mark, for miles along the beach. This is the strewn personal gear, gear that will never be needed again, of those who fought and died to give us our entrance into Europe,” he wrote.
“Here in a jumbled row for mile on mile are soldiers’ packs. Here are socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles and hand grenades. Here are the latest letters from home, with the address on each one neatly razored out — one of the security precautions enforced before the boys embarked.
“Here are toothbrushes and razors and snapshots of families back home staring up at you from the sand.
“Here are pocketbooks, metal mirrors, extra trousers, and bloody, abandoned shoes. Here are broken-handled shovels, and portable radios smashed almost beyond recognition, and mine detectors twisted and ruined.”
Haunting testimony that shows why each of the 156,000 men deployed on this momentous day alone was more than a number, it encapsulates the sacrifices made by so many British, American and Allied sailors, soldiers and airmen in the name of humanity.
Yet, as time catches up with the last surviving Normandy veterans, so, too, has the importance of recognising such landmarks in history and their relevance to today’s world. And the heart-rending reportage puts into context the recollections of Yorkshire’s last survivors of D-Day – humble and increasingly frail soldiers who still carry the physical and mental scars as the Royal family and world leaders pay their respects, firstly at Portsmouth where the Queen led the tributes, and then on the becalmed beaches of Normandy.
Modest men who, even now, play down their achievements, their deeds – and also the bravery shown by their comrades who were killed in battle – remains the personification of heroism and always will.
A mission planned in absolute secrecy, Britain would not be the great country that it is today without the courage of all those who served in two world wars. It is a point that must never be forgotten – even more so given the propensity of D-Day’s harrowing accounts to still shock 75 years after this defining fight for freedom.