Swanage Railway

28th May, 2024

D Day 80th anniversary plaque
Andrew P.M. Wright


Swanage Railway

28th May, 2024

A plaque marking the 80th anniversary of the Allied D-Day invasion of France in June, 1944, has been unveiled at the station from where young American soldiers boarded trains on their way to the horrors of Omaha Beach in Normandy.

The tribute was unveiled at Swanage station on Monday, 27 May, 2024, by 99-year old English D-Day veteran soldier Peter Lovett, who lives in Swanage, in the presence of civic and community guests - including the Mayor of Swanage Tina Foster.

The poignant plaque remembers and honours the men of the 26th Infantry Regiment of the US Army’s First Infantry Division which was known as the ‘Big Red One’ because of the distinctive red shoulder flash worn on the uniforms of the soldiers.

The American troops – known as GIs - were billeted in Swanage between November, 1943, and April, 1944, while they trained for D-Day and their part in the largest maritime invasion in history.

A retired guest house proprietor, Peter Lovett said: “I was honoured to unveil the D-Day plaque because it’s important that people remember and learn from the sacrifices of the past to defend freedom. My father’s war – the First World War – was never remembered.

“There were a lot of American troops in the Isle of Purbeck training for D-Day and Swanage station played an important part in transporting the GIs.

“I was 19 years old when I landed in Normandy on D-Day with the King’s Regiment, in the second wave, on the five-mile long Juno Beach at 8.30am with Canadian forces. There were dead bodies in the water and on the beach.

“It was the job of assault troops was to get ashore and push inland - it was the job of the second wave to clear the beach,” added Peter who was demobbed in 1946, has lived in Swanage since 1964 and is a grandfather.

Among the invited guests were members of the Dorset Military Vehicle Enthusiasts’ Group who attended with their vehicles and motorcycles to give Swanage station a taste of 1944 and the Second World War.

After the plaque unveiling, the invited guests enjoyed a return train trip from Swanage to Norden hauled by a unique Victorian T3 class steam locomotive that hauled passenger and freight trains during the Second World War – including during the run up to D-Day.

The Swanage Railway Trust’s newly restored T3 class No. 563 was built at Nine Elms in London in 1893.

The locomotive was set to be scrapped in 1939 but was spared by the outbreak of the Second World War because of the urgent need for as many trains as possible to carry troops, equipment, supplies and ammunition.

The D-Day 80th anniversary plaque at Swanage station was the idea of Swanage Railway Trust trustee and volunteer station porter Robert Patterson.

Robert Patterson said: “The role the American soldiers – the GIs – played in training for D-Day in the Isle of Purbeck while being billeted in Swanage from November, 1943, to April, 1944, was an important and historic one and should be remembered.

“Located on the platform at Swanage above the doors from the booking hall, the plaque will be a constant reminder of D-Day, 1944, and the sacrifices made by the American and other Allied forces to defend freedom and return freedom to Europe in the face of Nazi tyranny.

“The Swanage Railway’s D-Day plaque project was three months in the planning and everyone came together to help make it a really memorable and poignant event - I would like to thank all of them.

“There was immediate interest in the plaque, as soon as it was unveiled, from our passengers who were genuinely interested and unaware that the American GIs trained for D-Day in the Isle of Purbeck and left for D-Day by train from Swanage station in April, 1944, bound for Devon and the Normandy beaches,” added Robert.

Swanage Railway Trust chairman Frank Roberts – a military veteran himself – who lives in Swanage said: “Peter was delighted to unveil the D-Day plaque and it was great that he could join us for the event. Despite being 99-years old, Peter’s memories of D-Day are still very clear.

“I am really proud of the way that the Swanage Railway’s D-Day plaque project has come together and it was wonderful to introduce Peter Lovett to the guests before the unveiling, along with his daughter and grandson.

“The plaque is important because it records the important role that Swanage, and its railway station, played in the preparations for the D-Day invasion of Normandy on Tuesday, 6 June, 1944.

“It is important to remember because people forget and it’s essential we keep reminding people about the tragedy of war,” added Frank who served in the Royal Corps of Signals for 25 years and has been a dedicated Swanage Railway volunteer for more than 40 years.

The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers and anyone interested in finding out more should contact the Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention officer Lisa Gravett on 01929 475212 or email iwanttovolunteer@swanagerailway.co.uk. Details about volunteering can also be found at swanagerailwaytrust.org/volunteering.

Other News

Recite me