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History academic consults for 80th Anniversary series D-Day: The Unheard Tapes

Explosion scenes on "Sword Beach", soldiers under fire as they run from the landing craft onto the beach through Czech hedgehog anti-tank obstacles

How did those who lived through D-Day experience it? Groundbreaking new OU/BBC co-production D-Day: The Unheard Tapes brings the largest seaborne invasion in history to life, using a treasure trove of previously unheard recordings of those who lived through it.

Broadcast over three episodes on consecutive nights from 2 June, the series follows the troops, and civilians impacted, from the launch of the operation through the breakout from the beaches and the Nazi counter-attacks, using their own words.

Dr Frances Houghton, Lecturer in Modern British History, whose research interests lie in the history of Britain’s armed forces during and after the Second World War, consulted with production company Wall to Wall Media for the series.

Frances noted the intimate nature of the series, saying “D-Day: The Unheard Tapes brings the experiences, feelings and memories of ordinary people who were involved in, or impacted by, the Allied invasion to life in new and evocative ways.

“It draws extensively on oral testimonies that were recorded with military veterans and local civilians, granting the viewer an unusually intimate insight into what D-Day meant to those who survived.”

She emphasised the importance of historical records, in particular the role of the taped recordings used in the filming. “Overall, this series poignantly highlights the historical value of capturing veterans’ voices so that future generations might better understand what war is like ‘at the sharp end’. In so doing, it invites us all to reflect on how we experience, remember and tell stories of conflict.”

In Episode One, Allied soldiers take off under cover of darkness, as the biggest amphibious invasion in history begins. Gliders and paratroopers drop by nightfall, as bombs bombard the coast. As dawn breaks, German defenders witness an armada of ships approaching the shore. Extraordinarily powerful interviews with those who were there lead the story, lip-synced by actors who resemble them.

In Episode Two, powerful interviews with veterans lead us through their story of the invasion as hundreds of thousands of Allied troops land on five beaches along the Normandy coast. American soldiers on Omaha face a blood bath, while Royal Marine commandos encounter chaos at Sword Beach. As night draws in, troops finally make it off the sand, but the threats ahead are even greater.

In Episode Three, soldiers on both sides and French witnesses narrate the story of the bloody battle for Normandy that followed D-Day. Despite the hard-won foothold made on the coast, the Allies still face their greatest challenge. As the British try to take Caen and the Americans, Cherbourg, Nazi troops begin a regime of counterattacks, and the Allies become bogged down amid the dense Normandy hedgerows.

The series is accompanied by a free booklet highlighting key moments of D-Day. Copies can be obtained by calling 0300 303 0552 or by visiting OU Connect, where you can also find a short animation telling untold stories of women whose tenacity helped shape D-Day and change the course of World War Two, and more details about Dr Houghton’s work.

Image insert: (c) Wall to Wall Media

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