Civilians in Britain anticipate the ‘Second Front’

A road lined with artillery shells stored under metal shelters, 'somewhere in England', spring 1944.

A road lined with artillery shells stored under metal shelters, ‘somewhere in England’, spring 1944.

Princess Elizabeth inspecting an honour guard during a Royal visit to 2nd (Armoured) Battalion Grenadier Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division, at Hove, 17 May 1944.

Princess Elizabeth inspecting an honour guard during a Royal visit to 2nd (Armoured) Battalion Grenadier Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division, at Hove, 17 May 1944.

The tension in Britain was mounting as everyone knew that the invasion of Europe must come soon. The success of the whole affair was dependent on a surprise attack – and hence was surrounded by great secrecy. Unprecedented restrictions had been placed on civilians living near the coast and anyone who compromised security was liable to be locked until the invasion had passed.

While the Germans were trying to make sense of a variety of information being fed to them, the average British citizen was also putting ‘two and two together’. If the Germans had had access to the general undercurrent of thought in Britain they might well have been able piece together what was about to happen.

George Beardmore had no access to any special information, he was just a housing officer in north London, trying to accommodate those who had been bombed out. Yet his diary entry for the 29th shows that many people had an extraordinarily detailed understanding of what was about to take place:

29 May

Part of history is that fact that Enid from No 41, Christine from the Crescent, and Audrey also from the Crescent — all three being handsome and desirable young girls ranging from ages 17 to 20 — have developed patches on their lungs. If this isn’t a direct corollary of war I have never heard a bomb drop.

Of greater national importance is that we are presently under the shadow of the so-called ‘Second Front’ (actually, this will be the third or fourth front) by which is meant the invasion from these islands of the continent.

Although dead secret, much seeps through, how the Americans have been pouring tanks, guns, and equipment into this country, how the respective armies have been given different objectives — the Yanks here, the Canadians there, the British somewhere else, and how the invasion will be preceded both by a massive air-bombardment and an attack by air-borne gliders.

I find this incredible, even though gliders have been employed by the Germans. Much of it is rumour but at least it has given the office old soldiers a great deal to talk about.

A grim kind of exaltation is in full flood. I daresay the actual sailings will not be dramatic because dispersed over days and over the north European coastline.

See George Beardmore: Civilians at War: Journals, 1938-46.

LCMs and other anding craft moored at a harbour in the UK during the build-up to invasion, May 1944.

LCMs and other anding craft moored at a harbour in the UK during the build-up to invasion, May 1944.

A large group of LCTs (Landing Craft Tank) moored along the quayside at Southampton, 1944.

A large group of LCTs (Landing Craft Tank) moored along the quayside at Southampton, 1944.

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