In a fitting tribute to the D-Day heroes who led the Allied beach landings at Normandy 75 years ago, hundreds turned up at an event in the gardens of the former St Paul’s School in Hammersmith, where plans for liberating continental Europe were finalised.
Hammersmith & Fulham’s commemoration of the anniversary was, in the words of coordinator John Bridges, chairman of the Friends of St Paul’s Gardens, ‘an overwhelming success’.
Second World War Jeeps manoeuvred into position just off Hammersmith Road, on the site where Operation Overlord was finalised by Generals Montgomery and Eisenhower, standing alongside Winston Churchill and King George Vl.
One of the top draws at Saturday’s event was a giant inflatable Army obstacle course, which children had to navigate by climbing under and over blockades. “It was so popular we ended up having to prise the children out of it,” laughed John.
It was also an occasion to formally open St Paul’s Gardens, transformed in the past two years from a wilderness plagued by antisocial behaviour to a valuable asset for the community.
Cllr David Morton, Assistant H&F Cabinet member, who helped form the Friends group, said: “Thanks to the enthusiasm and efforts of residents the gardens have been transformed into this gem of a park.”
His words were echoed by the H&F Mayor, Cllr Daryl Brown, who officially declared the Gardens open, adding: “It is humbling to think that the biggest seaborne invasion ever to take place was planned here – over 6,000 Allied ships and landing craft embarking nearly 175,000 men, supported by 11,500 aircraft, leading directly to the liberation of Europe and to the end of the war.”
Songs of the 40s
Vintage singer Bunny Nightingale regaled everyone with wartime songs, while a children’s painting competition attracted high-quality entries, notably from the Ecole Francaise de Londres in Brook Green (sited in what was once the boarding school of St Paul’s) where French gratitude for the liberation in 1944 was underlined.
St Paul’s Hotel played a key role in Saturday’s D-Day commemoration event, providing the VIP area and free food and drink, while the local Army Reserve contingent were pivotal to making the day go so well.
Members of the congregation of nearby St Mary’s church – destroyed by a flying bomb a month after D-Day, and rebuilt after the war – also supplied refreshments. All the home-made cakes were eaten.
“It was a huge success,” said John, who also paid tribute to the support he had been given by Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s events organising team. “I’ve never in my life been involved in anything as satisfying or successful as this, and my mailbox is full of congratulatory emails and messages.”
While Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, said: “It was an honour to speak at the 75th anniversary of D-Day in remembrance of those who fought to bring about the liberation of Europe from fascism.”
The weather – as variable as on D-Day itself – was kind, and the hope now is to recreate that spirit of enthusiasm, commemoration and positivity at an event to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day in May 2020, when the end of war in Europe prompted dozens of bunting-filled street parties throughout the borough.
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