Studland’s association with the preparations for D-Day fascinated me from the start and was
brought alive when, during the seventieth anniversary commemorations for Exercise Smash in
2014, I met John Pearson and his restored Valentine Double Duplex tank – the type that went down
in the bay in April 1944. It was also incredibly moving to share a short service next to Fort Henry
with veterans of 4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards.
As the book developed the story of the tanks themselves became less central and the story of the GI’s
who were stationed in nearby Swanage and took part in the exercises took on more importance.
Many of them never came back from Omaha Beach, in part because their high command didn’t take
so much notice of the mistakes made during Exercise Smash as their British counterparts.
Through Facebook I came across the Studland History Group, and through them met a local National Trust warden who had done a great deal of research into the wartime history of the area, mainly through interviewing locals who lived through it. A morning spent with him brought the whole time alive in my mind and made the echoes from the past that Marie experiences all the more real.
In preparation for the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day the Isle of Purbeck Sub Aqua Club have undertaken ‘Valentine 75 Project – The Tanks that Swam’. They have spent almost two years diving on the wrecks to record them and searching archives to find out as much as possible about the men who died. Find out more on their special Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/valentine75/
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