Sevenoaks artist creates a beach of Bootprints in memory of soldiers who died during preperations for D-Day invasion
FEW people can have failed to have been moved by the ‘There But Not There’ campaign which saw silhouettes of soldiers appear in villages and towns last year to mark 100 years since the end of WW1.
Last year’s Centenary campaign saw communities up and down the country place the life size silhouettes of WW1 troops or ‘Tommies’ in public spaces across the UK, to remind people of the great sacrifice made by soldiers of the Great War.
The silhouettes were the brainchild of artist Martin Barraud from Penshurst near Sevenoaks and he recently unveiled another poignant tribute as part of the events which are being held this week to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy during the Second World War.
On 28 April 1944, American troops were taking part in ‘Exercise Tiger’ which was the code name given for one in a series of large-scale rehearsals for the Allied invasion of Normandy, in April 1944.
During the Exercise, a Royal Navy convoy carrying US troops was attacked by E-boats of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine, resulting in the deaths of 749 American servicemen. These marked some of the first casualties from the many thousands of American, British and Commonwealth soldiers who died 75 years ago in what many believe to be the turning point of the Second World War.
Martin’s latest installation was created at Slapton Sands in Devon and involved laying out the Bootprints of 749 American GIs across the sands to commemorate the soldiers that lost their lives in ‘Exercise Tiger’
Martin, who is the Chair of Trustees at ‘There But Not There’, said: “Last year our Tommy campaign captured the hearts of the nation, while giving a substantial boost to the mental health and wellbeing of veterans across the UK.
“A year on and we’re hoping the great British public will get behind our D-Day 75 campaign by purchasing their own Bootprints to mark the great sacrifice of our WW2 heroes, in particular those who helped kick-start the liberation of Europe with the invasion of Normandy on D-Day.”
United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Woody Johnson, said: “For a long time, many people had no idea that so many hundreds of American servicemen lost their lives on the coast of Slapton Sands as they rehearsed for the D-Day landings.
“Those men did not die in vain. Their sacrifices paved the way for their comrades to succeed on the beaches of Normandy and begin the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny.
Pam Wills from Devon was just 10 years old when Exercise Tiger took place on her doorstep. She lived near Slapton Sands and her family was evacuated before the exercise began.
Mrs Wills remembers talking to US servicemen stationed nearby: “The US soldiers came over and talked to us, they gave us sweets and comics, but they then suddenly disappeared. We didn’t know Exercise Tiger had taken place, but my father, who was in the Royal Observer Corps watching for enemy aircraft, saw ambulances going to and from Slapton Sands, so we knew something was wrong.”
The impending invasion of Normandy meant the Exercise Tiger incident, under the strictest secrecy at the time, was only nominally reported afterwards.
This year’s ‘There But Not There’ campaign is asking schools, businesses and communities to help raise much needed funds for the veteran community, by purchasing their own commemorative D-Day Bootprints vinyl.
Each pair of vinyl prints – costing £4 each – can be set down in public spaces across the country, creating a powerful act of remembrance for those who fought to liberate occupied Europe 75 years ago.
Individuals can also purchase haunting commemorative Bootprints plaques – with a retail price of £29.99 and set into acrylic – that are made by veterans, who support the employment of ex-Service personnel. Each of these plaques represents one of the 22,763 British and Commonwealth servicemen and women who were killed on D-Day and during the Battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944.
Money raised from the campaign, will go toward programmes supporting veteran employment projects.
Martin added: “These Bootprints are made by veterans, to commemorate the veterans of 75 years ago and will help support the veterans of today, back into employment. Our enduring hope is that every one of the US, British and Commonwealth soldiers, sailors and airmen who gave their lives will have a Bootprint purchased in their memory.”