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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 June, 2004, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
'D-Day knowledge could have killed me'
Arthur Ingham
Arthur's team had to cope without men lost in a training accident
Arthur Ingham was one of the few people taking part in the D-Day landings who had access to top secret invasion maps before heading for northern France.

The fear that the maps would be worth more to the enemy than his life was stronger than the fear he felt on the Normandy beaches.

The 24-year-old was a liaison officer under Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Naval Forces, and on the day worked with the RAF to notify shipping of impending air raids.

We sailed on 4 June and by nightfall on 5 June we were off the Isle of Wight. We sailed across overnight and arrived [off the French coast] at about 0600.

At the point when the BBC made the announcement of the landings we were anchored about five miles off Omaha beach.

Our job was made more difficult because we had no beach marshals. They had been killed in the fateful exercise at Slapton Sands shortly before the D-Day landings.

On D-Day we gave a brief outline to the paratroopers and glider people, but I did not know at this time that all the beach marshals were dead.

For this reason I was given the name 'Optimistic Englishman'.

Looking at the way things turned out I think they were right - many didn't last the day - but I'm glad they didn't tell us what had happened at Slapton.

So there was no guidance for the landing and for that reason I was put on a sand bank.

The water got deeper as we went in shore, until it came over the bonnet of the vehicle we were in.

When the engine stopped we had to bail out over the windscreen onto the bonnet.

It was there that the driver of the vehicle we were in, an RAF vehicle, told me he couldn't swim so I told him this was a very good time to learn.

I had on me a bag of my own belongings and a bag with the secret codes in it, which I had been told to guard with my life.

So when the driver said to me he couldn't swim I was torn between looking after him and looking after the bags.

But I chose him, and I lost everything I had, but was still one of the first to get onto the beach.

Experienced

I had joined up in 1939, and trained as an observer in Fleet Air arms before flying Swordfish aircraft from HMS Ark Royal, so I was very experienced by the time D-Day came around.

For this reason perhaps I didn't feel fear on D-Day. We were busy training and it was work to us - that's what I was there to do.
I knew I had information the Germans would have killed for and that was fear for me

The greatest fear I had was the day I was given the information about Overlord.

The officer who had briefed me rolled up a chart with all the beach heads marked on it and the times of the tides and when everything would take place.

He put it under my arm and said "Keep it there - it'll be safer there than trying to hide it."

I knew I had information the Germans would have killed for and that was fear for me when I left the office - there was nothing to match it on D-Day.

'Luxury'

When we went ashore on Omaha, a lot of our equipment was ruined, and we had to wait eight to 10 days for new equipment to be sent to us.

On D-Day I slept on a table and used my helmet as a pillow - not very comfortable - but by 7 June I was in luxury because the Americans sent some sleeping equipment and we were given a tent!

Arthur Ingham
Arthur carried the responsibility of his knowledge before D-Day

Then they announced the Germans had pulled out of Bayeux and so I got on my motorcycle and went there. I think I might have been the first Allied troop to arrive, so I celebrated by having a coffee and buying a postcard that I still have.

There's no question that D-Day was well worth it.

But I think it's quite a good thing that the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is coming to the commemorations this year.

Are we going to harbour a grudge ad infinitum? The closer we can get to one another the better.



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