As the sun sets on Day Two of the Chalke Valley History Festival and festival goers head to the bars where the clink of glasses and rattling of ice can be heard above the chatter and laughter, it has been another fascinating day of living history and highly informative talks.
The day opened with a Second World War morning, the audience being appropriately entertained with period songs like “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” before the arrival of the speakers.
James Holland introduced a veteran, General Stuart Watson, who had landed on Sword Beach in Normandy with the 13/18 Hussars on June 6th 1944. The General described his recruitment and early training in Scotland and East Anglia, his astonishment at the array and complexity of the weapons being prepared for D-Day, particularly the Duplex Drive tanks – “Who would ever have thought that a tank could swim?”.
He expressed his amazement that the Germans always believed that the invasion would be at the Pas de Calais, and that although 150,000 troops were amassed in the south of England and there were civilian witnesses to the weapons and the landing practices on various beaches, no word ever leaked out. On his part of the beach there were gun emplacements at either end – but, happily for his unit, without guns. The real struggle was to get off the beach through the minefields.