Saturday, 7 June 2014

Hayling Island Plays Big Role in the D-Day Landings

Louise Tells How Hayling Island, in Hampshire, UK, 
Played a Big Role in the D-Day Landings

Hayling Island

I live on a small island in the Solent just a few hundred yards off the mainland called Hayling Island. It is approximately 12 square miles in area, shaped like an inverted 'T' and measures 4.04 miles by 4.04 miles, and is a most beautiful place to live. Hayling Island also gets a mention in the Domesday Book, regarding Hayling's production of salt from the 11th century.

Hayling Island is a peaceful place to live, and famous for the First Windsurfing Board, A Roman Palace, Real Tennis Courts, and the graves of Princess Catherine Yurievskaya, the youngest daughter of Alexander II of Russia, who lived on Hayling Island for quite some years, and George Glas Sandeman, nephew of the founder of Sandeman Port.
A Phoenix Section of Mulberry Harbour

Hayling Island also played a large roll in the war efforts of World War II. For those of us who live here it is very evident that Hayling played a large part in the construction of the components for the Mulberry Harbours, as we have one still in Langstone Harbour, now broken in two. Langstone Harbour, to the west side of Hayling, was also used as the base for landing craft before D-Day. This part of the island also has a the odd concrete pill-box along the roadside.

Hayling Island was the location for a mock invasion during the military exercise called Fabius during May 1944. these were the rehearsals and preparations for the D-Day landings.

This is an extract from Wikipedia:

Exercise Fabius was a formal exercise for the Allied Operation Neptune in World War II. (the other was Exercise Tiger, which had occurred a week earlier.)
The exercise was planned to start on 2 May 1944, but bad weather delayed it to the next day.

It consisted of six separate exercises:
1. Fabius 1 - elements of the 1st Infantry Division and 29th Infantry Divisiion (United States) practiced amphibious landing at Slapton Sands.
1. Fabius 2 - elements of the 50th Infantry Division practiced landings at Hayling Island.
1. Fabius 3 - elements of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division practiced landings at Bracklesham Bay.
1. Fabius 4 - elements of the 3rd Infantry Division and associated units practiced landing at Littlehampton.
1. Fabious 5 and 6 - practice for American and British forces working on buildup of forces and supplies on Allied beaches.

They formed the largest amphibious training exercise of the war. As the final exercise before Operation Neptune, it resembled closely the final operation and no major changes could be made to Operation Neptune.

There is also one other exceptional thing that Hayling Island is famous for, but at the time was kept secret during the war. It was a covert unit of The Royal Navy, called COPP; Combined Operations Pilotage Parties, and was based at the Hayling Island Sailing Club, on the South East hook of Hayling. Set up in 1943, its main purpose was test and improve the invasion techniques. They trained as frogmen, canoeists, they used small submarines to check Normandy's beaches ahead of the D-Day landings. The men from COPP, among the many other things that they did, also shone beacons to guide all the Allied landing crafts onto the shore. They also surveyed enemy beaches in the Far East, India, Algeria, and Sicily, all under cover.

Now that we are all commemorating the 70th Anniversary of World War II, it's time to celebrate the roll that these magnificent few played. Here on Hayling Island a memorial has been erected to the men of COPP. 

On Wednesday, 21st May 2014 Dan Snow, TV historian, lead the honours for the COPP heroes of Hayling Island, and their vital contributions to the success of the Normandy landings of D-Day on 6th June 1944.

Excerpt from The Hayling Islander Newspaper reporting on the occasion.

Young and old gathered on the seafront to take part in a colourful tribute to a Hayling-based unit which played a key role in the Second World War.

[W]ar veterans and their families were joined by VIP visitors, serving soldiers from the 47 Regiment Royal Artillery, army cadets, pupils from the Hayling college, high-ranking military officers and a large crowd of Islanders, for the final dedication of the new stone memorial at Beachlands.

Among the speakers were BBC presenter Sally Taylor and television historian Dan Snow. they both spoke of the courage of the COPPs, who used canoes and miniature submarines to approach their targets, often swimming ashore in complete darkness to survey landing areas and take samples of beach material.

John Ashford, from Surrey, is one of only five surviving Coppists. the 89-year-old spoke fondly of his time in the unit. He said: 'I'm very proud to be here. It's so good to be able to see two ex-Coppists. It's sad that there's no more, but that's inevitable. The whole thing is a remarkable achievement. I was one of the youngest.

When you're 20 you've lots of self-confidence, you're terribly arrogant and quite convinced you can do anything.. When I was invited to join COPP I never considered for one moment not t[o.']

[A]lso taking part were Lord Richards of Herstmonceux and the grandson of Lord Mountbatten, the Honorable Timothy Knatchbull.

He said: 'It is the rugged truth that COPP is not well-known. It was only in the 1960s that COPP was declassified as an official secret. So it is a great responisibility that we have, particularly to the young people, to talk about the accomplishments of COPP. Of the men who risked everything - many of whom gave their live[s.']

The COPP Memorial at Hayling Island
On the right is Lady Patricia Knatchbull,
2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma

Laurence Binyon wrote a seven verse poem called The Fallen, and was printed in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914 in response to the high casualty rates of the British Expeditionary force at Mons and Le Cateau, of which the four lines of the fourth verse remain profoundly in our minds forever....

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The website for CoppHeroes can be found here
Hayling COPP Heroes Memorial Facebook Page can be found here

Louise Rule is the author of Future Confronted
Louise can be found on Facebook here

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Louise for a very informative post!