The seventy-fifth anniversary of the D-Day landings was marked in Marlborough by a wreath laying on the Common followed by the ringing of the bells of St Mary’s Church.
The wreaths were laid at the stone commemorating the U.S. Army’s 347th Station Hospital that was established on the Common specifically to receive battle casualties from the Allied assault on Nazi occupied Europe.
The stone is ‘dedicated to honour the members of the 347th Station Hospital, United States Army’ and was donated by the nurses and enlisted men who worked there.
Its detailed inscription makes special reference to ‘all the local volunteers from the town of Marlborough that worked long hours helping the nurses and doctors on the 347th Station Hospital.’
A small number of people gathered by the stone, including representatives from the Marlborough Branch of the Royal British Legion and from the Marlborough Royal Navy Association. The Town Mayor, Councillor Mervyn Hall, explained the significance of the hospital and his Chaplain said a prayer followed by a silence.
Three wreaths were laid – from the Town Council for the people of Marlborough, from the Royal Navy Association and from the Royal British Legion. The latter was laid by Tony Gray who sometime after the war served with the Wiltshire Regiment in Cyprus and is the last surviving member of that Regiment’s Old Comrades.
The hospital had over a thousand beds housed in 764 wooden buildings and 450 tents – and treated 55,000 men. Of those men, 10,500 returned to active front line services, 15,000 were made fit for other support service and 27,000 were sent home to the USA.
The hospital had nineteen operating tables, used 280 tons of bandages and 120,500 pints of blood. It used 200 Dodge ambulances, 50 supply lorries and 20 jeeps.
It was set up on 12 May 1944 and, a letter from the hospital’s Executive Officer stated, “…United States Army tenure of Marlborough Common and 500 acres of nearby land will cease and shall be handed back to the County of Wiltshire at 00:00 hours on Monday 12th June 1945.” However, the stone’s inscription says it was in use until 30 July 1945.
The buildings on the Common were taken over from American soldiers training for D-Day – the Third Army, XX Corps to which was attached the U.S. Army Air Corps 21st Weather Squadron. And we know that some of the men moved out of the barracks to make way for the hospital ended up at Ogbourne St George.
One Second World War veteran unable to be at the wreath laying was John Bower who lives in Marlborough and went ashore in Normandy on D-Day +1. He served with British tanks. He was chosen to attend the commemoration events in Portsmouth and was interviewed there by BBC Television.
As people left the Common, they heard the bells of St Mary’s rung in commemoration of the extremely risky, highly costly yet successful landings.
Led by Tower Captain Dorothy Blythe, nine bell ringers tolled a series of call changes – five different rings. They were led off at 4pm by the great tenor bell.
With the Tower Captain in the belfry were David Miles, Bob Mann, Bruce McCrea, Tom Ottley (who is Tower Captain at Minal), David Chandler, David Fishlock, David Sherratt and Ian Wylde.
It was noted that on 6 June 1944 one of these bell ringers was 12-years-old, two were six and one was three. David Sherratt recalls being told about the invasion by the milkman.