Long read

5 People And A Pigeon Who Reported On The D-Day Landings

The Second World War was the most extensively reported conflict in history. By late 1944, the press camp at Supreme Allied Headquarters in France had 1,000 correspondents who filed three million words each week.

News organisations had been preparing for the invasion of occupied Europe well before D-Day. The BBC set up a specialist War Reporting Unit in 1943 to train and organise its reporters for what was expected to be the most significant campaign of the war to date.

Reporting on D-Day and the campaign in north-west Europe offered an unprecedented opportunity for correspondents. But it was not without risk. Amongst those killed were the BBC’s Kent Stevenson, who died while reporting on a raid over northwest Germany two weeks after D-Day, and Guy Byam, who was killed in a US Air Force raid over Berlin on 3 February 1945.

  • Richard Dimbleby - the BBC's main reporter on D-Day

    Richard Dimbleby interviewing members of the Army Film and Photograph Unit (AFPU) in North Africa in June 1942
    Richard Dimbleby interviewing members of the Army Film and Photograph Unit (AFPU) in North Africa in June 1942
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    Richard Dimbleby led the team of BBC war correspondents reporting D-Day and the liberation of north-west Europe. He was present at the crossing of the Rhine and was the first correspondent to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In 1939, he had been sent out to France with the British Expeditionary Force as the BBC’s first-ever war correspondent. He also reported the war in the Middle East. This photograph shows him interviewing members of the Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) in North Africa in June 1942.

  • Martha Gellhorn - D-Day Stowaway

    Martha Gellhorn with troops at Cassino in February 1944.
    Martha Gellhorn with troops at Cassino in February 1944.
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    Martha Gellhorn did not have official permission to report the D-Day landings as her then husband, Ernest Hemingway, was chosen ahead of her to cover the landings for Collier’s magazine. However, on 5 June she managed to get on board a hospital ship and hid overnight in a toilet. On D-Day itself she saw the casualties being brought on board and later went ashore with the ambulance teams. Gellhorn had previously covered the war in Italy and this photograph shows her with troops at Cassino in February 1944.

  • RAF pigeon Gustave - brought back first Reuters Despatch on D-Day

    During the Second World War, pigeons were widely used for carrying messages by the Army, the RAF and the Civil Defence Services. RAF aircrew carried homing pigeons on board their aircraft so that if they had to ditch in the sea, the pigeon could fly back to base with their location. Homing pigeons were also used to carry other urgent messages. Gustave - the subject of this newsreel film - carried back the first despatch for news agency Reuters on D-Day. Another pigeon - Duke of Normandy - brought back the first message on D-Day from British airborne forces.

  • Edward Ardizzone - a war artist in Normandy

    At Sea on an LCI, 1944, by Edward Ardizzone
    At Sea on an LCI, 1944, by Edward Ardizzone
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    War Artists also made an important contribution to recording events in June 1944. Edward Ardizzone accompanied troops crossing over to France in a landing craft one week after D-Day - an experience he recorded in this drawing. Ardizzone was one of the most prolific war artists of the Second World War, producing over 400 works. He covered the British Expeditionary Force in France, the London Blitz, campaigns in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, and north-west Europe.

  • Bert Hardy - Picture Post photographer with the AFPU

    Image of Royal Engineers embarking on a ship for Normandy, 9 June 1944.
    Image of Royal Engineers embarking on a ship for Normandy, 9 June 1944.
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    The Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) was set up in 1941 to produce an official record of the British Army’s role during the war. Many members of the AFPU had been press photographers or cameramen in peacetime. A new section of the AFPU - No. 5 - was formed on 15 April 1944 specifically to prepare for the landings in Normandy. Nine officers and 72 other ranks, including 39 sergeant cameramen and photographers, were recruited. These included Picture Post photographer Bert Hardy, who took the photograph shown here.

  • Howard Marshall - broadcast from the D-Day beaches

    Howard Marshall: War Correspondent, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1943, by Henry Carr.
    Howard Marshall: War Correspondent, British Broadcasting Corporation, 1943, by Henry Carr.
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    Howard Marshall was another senior BBC journalist to cover the Normandy Landings. Famous for his cricket commentaries, Marshall was a contemporary of Richard Dimbleby at the BBC and served as their Director of War Reporting from 1943 to 1945. On D-Day, he accompanied the British Second Army. The reports from Marshall and the BBC’s other correspondents in the field were broadcast on the iconic ‘War Report’ programme. By May 1945, the BBC had broadcast some 235 War Reports, comprising more than 1,500 despatches.