Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die by Giles Milton

Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die by Giles Milton

Author:Giles Milton
Language: eng
Format: mobi, epub
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Published: 2019-01-25T00:00:00+00:00


British commandos support the Canadian landings on Juno Beach. The heavily laden soldier on the gangplank has just lost his balance.

16

Juno

SOUTHWICK HOUSE, NEAR Portsmouth, was a wedding cake of a building, a stucco-fronted mansion with a stack of pillars and a façade that gleamed like icing. It was gleaming more than usual on this particular morning as the strengthening sun lit the paintwork of the eastern gable.

Southwick was the home of Colonel Evelyn Thistlethwaite, a bewhiskered country squire who had spent the early years of the war hobnobbing with Portsmouth-based admirals. He invited them to hunt on his estate and they accepted with alacrity, but they repaid his generosity with a poachers’ sting: a requisitioning order that stripped the colonel of his hereditary pile and gave them the run of the place. Soon afterwards, their hunting games took a more dangerous turn as they plotted how to flush the German quarry out of Normandy.

Southwick House was the advance command post of SHAEF, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force: it was from here that the final details of the invasion were planned. The house was also home to a namesake, Shaef, Eisenhower’s cat, who had been gifted to the general a few months earlier by Staff Sergeant Mickey McKeogh. Sergeant McKeogh hoped that Shaef would help Eisenhower to relax and this indeed proved the case. He grew so fond of his black-furred pet that he would later transport him to France.

But nothing could calm Eisenhower’s fragile nerves on that long and stressful Tuesday: the chirpiness he had displayed on waking had rapidly dissipated and been replaced by a cloud of doubt. When McKeogh visited him in his trailer, he found Eisenhower seated next to his overflowing ashtray. ‘His voice and face showed that tightness we had all been feeling.’

A collective anxiety was to pervade Southwick House for much of the morning. ‘Everybody was very sober. It was the soberest day we ever had.’ McKeogh felt as if everyone had been struck by the enormity of what was taking place. ‘Nobody made any of the little jokes we usually had.’1

Eisenhower’s personal aide, Harry Butcher, remained by Ike’s side for some hours. At one point the two of them were seated in silence in a tented communications post in the grounds of the house: it was so quiet that they could overhear a British officer, Jimmy Gault, listening to a naval transmission. ‘It was coming through in glub-glubs and blurp-blurps of scramblese,’ said Butcher, who saw that Eisenhower was growing increasingly nervous. ‘God,’ blurted Ike after several minutes, ‘this must be bad, it’s so long.’ In fact, the naval report brought relatively good news: just two destroyers (USS Corry and Svenner) were known to have sunk.

Shortly afterwards, Ike paced over to the war room inside nearby Southwick House. This was the nerve centre of the invasion and it was bristling with energy as staff read through the latest information before swiftly incorporating it on to the vast situation map of Normandy. Among the



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