The bravery of those who took part in the historic D-Day invasion musn’t be forgotten

Published in The Sunday Express on 12 May 2024.

We must never forget the men, my father among them, who secured one the greatest war victories of all time, says Lord Ashcroft.

The immense bravery displayed by tens of thousands of British and Allied servicemen on D-Day makes me feel both proud and emotional in equal measures.

Part of those feelings come from the fact that my late father, Eric Ashcroft, was one of those who took part in the landings on June 6, 1944. He and other participants have made me realise just how terrifying it must have been running up one of the five chosen Normandy beaches into a murderous enemy fire.

If there is one man who epitomises the gallantry of so many on D-Day, it is Company Sergeant Major Stanley Hollis. That’s because, of the 155,000 courageous Allied servicemen estimated to have taken part in the D-Day landings, he was the only one to be awarded the VC for his actions that day.

With his crooked teeth and quiet modesty, CSM Hollis was an unlikely war hero. But his actions, which saved the lives of many comrades, are deserving of his place in history. Showing Yorkshire grit and determination, CSM Hollis, then 31, was very much a soldier’s soldier and, in two separate incidents, showed outstanding courage. In the first, after running up Gold Beach, he was fired at from a pillbox by a machine-gunner at close range.

His response was to race forward firing his Sten gun and then to throw a hand grenade at the enemy. He killed two German soldiers and took others prisoner. Later that day, in the village of Crepon, his company encountered enemy soldiers armed with machine guns and a field gun.

CSM Hollis was put in charge of a party tasked with attacking the position, but as he pushed forward he was hit by a bullet that grazed his right cheek. In subsequent heavy fighting, he and his men killed two enemy gun crew, then seized the field gun before CSM Hollis freed two comrades who had been trapped in another building.

When CSM Hollis, of D Company, 6th Battalion Green Howards, was awarded the VC later that summer, part of his citation for the award stated: “Wherever the fighting was heaviest, CSM Hollis appeared and in the course of a magnificent day’s work, he displayed the utmost gallantry.”

As for my father, Eric Ashcroft, he was serving in the summer of 1944 as a young officer with the South Lancashire Regiment. In fact, his CO was shot dead at his side as they progressed up Sword Beach.

My father was wounded by shrapnel, fighting on until ordered from the battlefield, but he survived his injuries. D-Day, the start of “Operation Overlord”, remains the largest naval, air and land operation in history.

More than 4,400 Allied troops were killed on D-Day alone – and more than 5,000 were wounded. In the ensuing Battle of Normandy, 73,000 Allied forces were killed and 153,000 wounded. It is quite right that, 80 years on, the valour of these courageous servicemen is still recognised far and wide.

Their gallantry must never be forgotten.

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