During 1943 a further twenty eight people with a connection to Darwen had lost their lives as a result of war actions. 1944 would prove a very decisive year in the course of the war as the allies prepared for the invasion of France. The country swelled with the numbers of American troops arriving to join the British and Commonwealth Forces already here. Production in the mills in Darwen was stepped up in readiness for the increased demand. Darwen men were amongst those who landed at Anzio in January and moved swiftly through Italy to reach Rome in June, two days before the Normandy landings. In desperation the Germans retaliated with the V1 Flying Bomb, and as the war progressed and the Allies first liberated Paris in August then Brussels in September they unleashed the first V2 Rocket Bomb. There was an urgent need to move quickly across Europe and the bridges were an important link for the troops. Arnhem would claim a number of Darwen men in September. At the same time as all this was happening in Europe, Darwen men were involved in defeating the Japanese invasion of India – also in June. The high concentration of Darwen men in front line action would prove costly for the town.
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The first Darwen casualty of 1944 was Lance Corporal John Shorrock of the Coldstream Guards.
Hollins Mill was taking on extra employees in 1944 to cope with the increased demand for munitions.
Keeping things quiet about invasion plans in Darwen we carried on as normal with a Salute the Soldier Week.
The Americans on parade that day were the 333rd Ordnance Depot Company and it was the 34th birthday of Ben J Grabowski, fourth from front, left row.
More Americans were in Darwen at the time, collecting paint from the Walpamur for a special consignment.
Aircraft recognition stripes were added to all invasion aircraft using black and white paint from Walpamur.
Preparations for D-Day usually meant dangerous training with live ammunition, and Charles Grills would miss D-Day having been injured on manoeuvres.
Frank Grime had finished his training in previous years and was stationed in Iceland which was a base for aircraft on convoy protection from U-Boats.
Iceland is also where the Army Glider Pilots were training in preparation for D-Day like Tom Smith.
Tom’s brother Norman, meanwhile, was getting ready for his first operational flight as Rear Gunner in a Lancaster on 5th June 1944.
For almost 6 hours 101 Squadron were flying with Special Operatives jamming radio signals to prevent the Germans getting an early warning.
Alex Reeling was on HMS Ajax in the English Channel on D-Day, bombarding Gold Beach in support of British Troops.
Alex’ wife was later invited to visit him in Portsmouth – she must have wondered what news the Telegram brought!
William Allan Jepson was on HMS Melbreak in the Channel and their job was to bombard Omaha Beach in support of the Americans.
The Landing Craft then set about putting troops ashore – a most dangerous time. Richard Thornber was killed instantly when his craft took a direct hit.
The Mulberry harbours were towed across the Channel; some of the spare parts had been made at Olive Mill in Darwen.
Arthur Walmsley RA was assigned to defend the harbours – his wife was informed incorrectly that he had drowned on the way across – he survived.
Onto the beaches would go Harold Greenwood, and from 6th June 1944 he would be fighting continuously until leave in January 1945.
In the days following D-Day Richard Westhead arrived in France with the East Lancashire Regiment and was wounded at Caen where fierce fighting took place.
Three veterans of 1944 were present at the 75th Anniversary of D-Day at the Darwen Heritage centre.
Margaret Edith Dickinson went onto the beaches as a member of the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps and set up field hospitals.
Back in England Albert Edward Heap was just starting his role as Flight Engineer with 138 Squadron who dropped supplies and spies behind enemy lines.
As the troops advanced into occupied territory they faced fierce resistance, especially from snipers. Lance Corporal Jack Greenhalgh lost his life in July.
The sea was no safer, and Wilfrid Keown was another casualty in July.
Also in July the youngest person from Darwen in the Armed Forces, Jack Banks, lost his life at only 16 years of age.
August would be no safer, and Gunner Ernest Harwood at 21 years of age fell victim leaving a young widow.
Fred Lowis of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers was another victim in August – he was 29 years old when he died leaving a wife behind.
James Reid Demerchant had come over from Canada and just before D-Day had married Nancy Pilling in Darwen – he died in August leaving his wife and baby.
Darwen’s contribution to the War Effort in 1944 was to supply 3 NAAFI wagons through the YMCA to support the troops through Europe.
Each one carried the Darwen Coat of Arms and they provided comforts such as hot drinks, food and even a travelling library.
Tom Smith who had taken troops into Caen on D-Day as a glider pilot was injured in taking troops into Arnhem where Paratrooper Richard Edward Lee was killed.
More Darwen men would lose their lives in Holland and after the war whilst still in their temporary graves parents visited the places where their loved ones lay.
St Joseph’s teacher Alphonsus Bede McGlynn, Navigator in Mosquito’s was shot down over Hamburg in October as the RAF took the war to Germany.
Norman Smith would reach his final sortie with 101 Squadron, though the last trip was in his words: “A Shaky Do”.
In December 1944 there was a feeling that we were winning and there was no further need for the Home Guard.
It must have been quite a sight for those in Darwen at the time as they paraded along the main road from the Anchor Pub.
They were finally dismissed from in front of Woolworths.
An unusual sight at a wedding in 1944, the Army, RAF and the Navy all represented – I wonder how they all got leave together?
Another sad day just before Christmas as Maurice Griffiths lost his life, leaving behind a wife and child he had never seen.
Mrs Rimmington was still waiting for her son to come home.