76 years ago today, on 6 June 1944, hundreds of thousands of Allied troops launched an attack on German positions along the Normandy coast in France. They were supported by many thousands of air and naval forces.
Casualties were huge, with more than 10,000 killed, wounded or missing on the first day of fighting alone.
From a military perspective, the landings were a success as Allied troops broke through German defences and, on 25 August, Paris was liberated.
To mark the anniversary, we’ve taken a look through the Group’s archives for memories from staff who lived through these events.
“A sight I will never forget”
Thousands of staff served in the forces during the Second World War, with many taking part in the D-Day operations.
Among them was Eric Baker, from Lloyds’ Crayford branch in Kent. During D-Day he was serving as a stoker on board HMS Glasgow. Sailing from Belfast, it went to join the American battleships Texas and Arkansas.
He recalled: “This was a sight I will never forget. Those great men of war in line ahead with their destroyer escorts, ploughing through the heavy seas…no one spoke a word - the only sound was the engines slowly turning.”
Gordon Sykes from the Halifax office in Nottingham served as a Bombardment Liaison Officer onboard a destroyer.
He described the scene as dawn broke: “Aircraft passed overhead in a continuous stream… quickly followed by the flashes of bursting bombs. This was our zero hour. The squadron with…calm and precision…took up its station and began to shell the German-held coast.”
“Just another exercise”
A very different perspective emerges from recollections of staff back on home soil. Huge secrecy surrounded preparations for the Normandy landings, and the civilian population remained largely unaware of what was happening.
The private memoranda books of Lloyds Bank branch managers from that period record ordinary business – even in locations where troops were gathering:
• At Southsea branch – very close to the heart of D-Day preparations – discussion centred on the price of barley and potatoes.
• At Salcombe, where the estuary teemed with landing craft, the manager was advising a customer about a house move.
• And at Stonehouse branch in Plymouth – just 200 yards from the docks where 2,000 men were holed up in a flotilla of warships – the manager noted that the caretaker’s toilet had a leaking cistern.
A certain amount of additional activity was noted by some. Walter Kenworthy of Halifax branch in Portsmouth recalled “tremendous activity surrounding the ferry approaches…a veritable queue of ships and landing craft of all dimensions proceeding to meet their destroyer escort visible on the horizon.”
However, this was put down to being “just another exercise”. Until, that is, a few days later when news of the landings was reported, and vessels began returning “with walking wounded and – if the black flag was flying – prisoners aboard”.
“They bought our liberty for us”
Sadly there were casualties from the staff ranks. Among them was Alan Kilbey, of Lloyds’ Gooch Street branch in Birmingham, who was killed on the first day of battle. As part of the 4th Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, his role had been to defend troops being parachuted in.
William Brockhill, accountant at Bank of Scotland’s Bearsden branch, was serving with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps when he died. Reported missing on 16 June, he was presumed to have been killed some days earlier.
John Wells, of the Bradford branch of Halifax, was a navigator in 625 Squadron – the heavy bomber brigade. 625 Squadron delivered more than 1200 tonnes of bombs to various targets in France in support of the Normandy landings. Wells died on 11 June, just a few days into the fighting.
These are just some of our stories from the Second World War and there are many more.
The impact of the conflict on the bank was profound. Business changed dramatically to meet the needs of the country. Branches were bombed, shut down, and a few were even invaded.
A staggering number of staff – more than 6,000 – served in the forces during the Second World War. 509 employees made the ultimate sacrifice, including 18 civilians who lost their lives in air raids. Lord Balfour, Lloyds’ chair at the time, paid tribute:
“They bought [our liberty] for us, not counting the cost.”
Halifax Southampton branch - before and after being hit by an incendiary bomb in 1941.