On 6 June 1944 the world awoke to the dramatic and long-expected news that Allied forces had stormed ashore the heavily defended beaches of northern France, supported by 24,000 glider-borne troops and paratroopers aboard 1,200 transport aircraft and 700 gliders.
More than 6,500 Allied ships and landing craft put to sea from ports along the length of the British south coast, supported by 12,000 aircraft, in what was one of the most significant events of the Second World War.
Months of planning, training, reconnaissance, construction of military equipment, and a campaign of Allied air attacks on German transport networks and fortifications had led to this point. The operation was designed to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation, taking pressure off the Soviet armies in the east, and shortening the war.
Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson said the stories told in the exhibition demonstrate an unwavering commitment to serving Australia.
“The battle of Normandy was described by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as ‘much the greatest thing … ever attempted’. The battle matters because it was fought for bigger ideals. Australia stood united against Hitler’s murderous and criminal regime,” said Dr Nelson.
“Some 3,300 Australian servicemen and servicewomen contributed to Operation Overlord. Thirteen Australians were killed on D-Day: two members of the Royal Australian Navy and 11 members of the Royal Australian Air Force. Australia’s contribution and its sacrifice is a little-known story in one of history’s most dramatic events.”
The fighting in Europe continued for another eight months, but D-Day was a major campaign for Australian military forces. Memorial Senior Historian Dr Lachlan Grant has said that these stories “remind us that Australia played a role in a wider global struggle – not only to defeat Japanese militarism in our own region of Asia and the Pacific, but … to defeat the evils of Nazism and fascism in occupied Europe”.
D-Day: the Australian story will showcase a selection of items from the National Collection, including: textiles, photographs, diaries, letters, models, artwork, and digital displays. This includes the story of Lieutenant Kenneth Hudspeth of the Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve, who was twice awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for commanding a midget submarine during the invasion.
The exhibition is located in the mezzanine area of Anzac Hall and will be on display until September 2019.
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