We Tell Their Stories: Casualties of D-Day & The Battle of Normandy

As we mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, we share some of the stories of those who were killed on June 6, 1944, and in the wider Battle of Normandy.

As we mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, we share some of the stories of those who were killed on June 6, 1944, and in the wider Battle of Normandy.

We Tell Their Stories

D-Day & The Battle for Normandy

1st Hampshire Battalion, 6 June 1944 by Leslie Arthur Wilcox

Image:  1st Hampshire Battalion, 6 June 1944 by Leslie Arthur Wilcox (© The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment)

D-Day is probably the most famous battle of the Second World War.

On June 6, 1944, over 150,000 Allied soldiers, supported by 7,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft, crashed into the beaches of Normandy in the largest amphibious invasion in history.

Within a year of D-Day, the Second World War was over.

This momentous campaign changed the face of the war and helped speed up the liberation of Europe from the fascist yoke.

But it was not without cost.

D-Day cost the Allies some 4,440 men killed and thousands more wounded, injured, or missing.

Normandy’s beaches were only the beginning. For the next two months, the Allied forces in Normandy clashed with the German Wehrmacht in intense, concentrated, bloody fighting.

Over 220,000 Allied soldiers were killed, wounded, or went missing over the next two months until the Battle of Normandy ended in late August 1944.

Stories from D-Day & the Normandy Campaign

Below are some of the stories of Commonwealth servicemen killed on D-Day in the fighting across Normandy.

Marine Robert Casson

Marine Robert CassonImage: Robert Casson (copyright unknown)

Marine Robert Casson was born in Whitehaven, Cumbria on 1st March 1919. 

Not wishing to go down the local mines, Robert left his home and eventually settled in York, working at the Rowntree’s confectionery company.

Robert was called up on 22 February 1940, joining the Royal Marines 101st brigade, initially as a cook.

By 1942, Robert had been promoted twice, first to lance corporal and then corporal. 

On 15 September 1943, at his own request, Robert was dropped back down to Marine after volunteering to join the Commandos special forces.

Completing the tough Commando training, Robert was assigned to the HQ Staff of 4th Special Service Brigade in November 1944. 

From the 1-4 June 1944 Robert was stationed in Southampton and received his briefing in C.19 Camp. He embarked from HMS Tormentor, Warsash on the river Hamble near Southampton on June 5 1944 with LSIs Serials 1519 and 1520 to take part in the D-Day landings. 

As his landing craft approached Juno Beach, Robert was killed and given an improvised burial at sea.

Despite his remains being committed to the deep, Robert is commemorated in Ryes War Cemetery and not on a naval memorial, as is normally the case for casualties with no known grave but the sea.

So, how does Robert have a war grave?

Normandy was rocked by a torrential storm in mid-June. Bodies of the fallen killed on the Normandy beaches or out at sea during the landings had been washed ashore. 

Robert’s body appears to have been one of these. His body was first interred in a temporary grave at St Aubin-sur-Mer close to Juno Beach before he was moved to Ryes War Cemetery. 

Robert is buried next to his brother, Joseph, who was killed in action with the Durham Light Infantry during its advance on Juvigny on 27 June 1944.

Our thanks go to John and Mary Holland for sharing this story.

Captain Keith Douglas

Captain Keith DouglasImage: War poet, author, and Normandy casualty Captain Keith Douglas (public domain)

Lovers of literature and pursuers of poetry will no doubt be familiar with the name Keith Douglas.

Keith is regarded as one of the finest poets of his generation, noted for being one of the few Second World War poets to continue in the tradition of their Great War forebears.

Keith initially signed up within days of the declaration of war in September 1939, but it was not until July 1940 that he entered military service. 

After completing officers’ training at Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Keith was commissioned into the 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry in February 1941. 

He was then transferred to the Nottinghamshire (Sherwood Rangers) Yeomanry and with his regiment took place in the titanic fighting at the Battle of El Alamein.

Keith’s insights into the life of a tank officer and Eighth Army’s victorious sweep through the North African desert were brought to vivid life in Alamein to Zem Zem, regarded as one of the finest memoirs of the Second World War.

Captain Douglas returned to the UK in December 1943 as preparations for D-Day intensified. 

His unit was there on D-Day but Keith would not survive the battlefields of Normandy.

On 9 June, around Tilly-ser-Seulles, inland from the beaches, Keith was concerned about the Rangers’ lack of progress at Hill 102, an important piece of high ground.

Getting out of his tank to personally reconnoitre the area, he was struck by mortar fire and killed instantly.

Keith was initially buried close to where he fell. His body was later moved to Tilly-sur-Seulles War Cemetery.

Guardsman David Blyth

Guardsman David BlythImage: Guardsman David Blyth whose remains were uncovered in Normandy decades after his death (photo courtesy of the Blyth family)

Guardsman David Blyth’s story is an important reminder that, although the war is long finished, recovering and commemorating the dead of the Second World War is still an important ongoing mission.

Born on 11 February 1919 in Sutton-on-Hull, East Yorkshire, David was one of nine children born to John and Clara Blyth.

David was a labourer for the Hull Co-Operative Wholesale Society before enlisting in the Coldstream Guards on 21 August 1937. He was assigned to the Guards’ 1st Battalion on 4 March 1938.

David and The Coldstream Guards were some of the first British Forces to fight in Europe as part of the British Expeditionary Force in September 1939. David was evacuated as part of Opeartion Dynamo on 1 June 1940.

In August 1940, David married Mary Keating in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire. Their son, Peter, was born there on 31 May 1941.

1st Battalion The Coldstream Guards joined the newly-formed Guards Armoured Division in June 1941. David qualified as a Driver Mechanic in April 1942 and was posted to 137 Tank Delivery Squadron in 1943. This was later redesignated as 268 Forward Delivery Squadron.

The Guards Armoured Division disembarked in Normandy on 30 June 1944. They formed part of the Allied forces arrayed for Operation Bluecoat which kicked off on 30 July 1944.

On 1 August, David and his crew were attached from 268 Forward Delivery Squadron to 2nd (Armoured) Battalion The Irish Guards and their tank was placed under the command of Lieutenant (Lt) John Charles Fitzgerald Keatinge, an Irish Guards Officer.

At 5:30am on 4 August, 2nd Battalion The Irish Guards left La Marvindière. No.1 Squadron moved to the road facing north and east. In the afternoon, the enemy withdrew from Montchamp and moved towards Le Busq without seemingly knowing that 2nd Battalion The Irish Guards were there.

No.1 Squadron came into contact first. Two tanks, commanded by Serjeant (Sjt) Martin Holmes Brennan and Lt Keatinge were knocked out by a German Panther tank. Sjt Brennan was killed and Lt Keatinge was mortally wounded. In total 2nd Battalion The Irish Guards lost 4 tanks and 14 men killed that day.

The crew of Lt Keatinge’s tank were recorded as having died because of the fighting on 4 August 1944. On 10 August, casualties were removed from the 4 tanks and later buried in St Charles-de-Percy War Cemetery.

David was listed as missing and was commemorated on the Bayeux Memorial.

Later remains were found by a farmer ploughing a field in the hamlet of La Marvindière, near St Charles-de-Percy, in Normandy.

The ground had not been disturbed since the war when a pair of Sherman tanks were destroyed there on 4 August 1944. A Coldstream Guards cap badge was found close by.

The remains of David Blyth were identified after his son agreed to assist with DNA testing and a positive DNA match was found.

David was buried with full military honours at St Charles-de-Percy War Cemetery, France on 19 September 2023, his final resting place marked by a Commonwealth War Graves headstone to be cared for in perpetuity.

Stoker 1st Class William Sisson and Stoker 2nd Class Edward Sanders

William and Edward were crewmembers on the destroyer, HMS Wrestler on D-Day. Wrestler was assigned ‘shepherding’ duties, ensuring that no ships strayed out of the ten safe channels that had been swept of mines just ahead of the invasion force.

In the course of her duties, Wrestler hit a mine in unswept waters slightly east of Channel 7. Wrestler was taken on tow and made it to Portsmouth but was scrapped due to the extent of the damage.

Many crewmembers were wounded in the explosion, sadly two were killed - William and Edward who were working down below at the time. They are both commemorated here on Panel 86.

Help us keep telling the stories of the Commonwealth’s war dead

Keeping the memories of our war dead alive and spreading our shared is history is at the core of what we do at the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation.

If you would like to support our work, please consider making a donation.

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Thank you for everyone here at the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation.

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