Alison and Dick Gregory - their D-Day Story
Seventy-five years on from the historic events of D Day, Sir Andrew Gregory, Chief Executive at SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity and Master Gunner St James’s Park, remembers the roles played by his parents.
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“My mother, Alison Egerton, joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), commonly called the Wrens, on her 18th birthday on December 4, 1940. Having been shelled from across the Channel while serving in Dover, by June 1944 she was a Third Officer and working in the Operations Room of Southwick House, General Eisenhower’s D Day headquarters just north of Portsmouth.
“Meanwhile my father, Dick Gregory, had joined the Royal Artillery in 1936 at the age of 20 and, after an initial spell in India, went on to fight against the Italians in Abyssinia in Africa. He then returned to the UK to prepare for the Allied invasion of France. By then a captain in 7th Field Regiment RA who were supporting 185 Brigade, part of 3rd British Division, he was a Forward Observation Officer, attached to 2nd Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
“The original OPERATION OVERLORD plan was to invade on the morning of June 5, 1944, but a terrible storm swept in overnight jeopardising the entire operation, so the landings were delayed 24 hours. “The troops had already been on board the landing craft for some time and Dad said it was unbelievably miserable with most being seasick. He said everybody just wanted to get to the beaches so we could get on with it – and get off these awful boats!
“Thus, on the morning of June 6, 1944, as thousands of British, US and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, my mother was moving markers on the map board in Southwick House that showed the progress of the invasion fleet – with one of those markers carrying my father, though they didn’t know each other then!
“185 Brigade was the second brigade from 3rd Division to land on Sword Beach at around 10am and after 8 Brigade, the assault brigade; the Brigade was tasked to secure Caen that evening. 2 WARWICKS were ordered to advance south and along the east side of the River Orne. Having got south of Pegasus Bridge – Benouville, and just short of Blainville, at about 10.30pm my father’s Comet tank took a direct hit from an 88mm anti-tank weapon. Lance Bombardier Boddy was killed and my father and Lance Bombardier Wicks were both wounded. My father was evacuated that night; as he said, he spent less than a day in France and two years being patched back up again.
“My mother, Third Officer Egerton, was to spend rather longer on French soil. Working on the staff of Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who had overseen the evacuation of Dunkirk and was now the overall OVERLORD maritime commander, she landed in France on September 6, 1944, spending the rest of the war just outside Paris. When Winston Churchill arrived in Paris just after VE Day, he saw her and two other Wrens with a White Ensign and gave them a thumbs up! She finished her service in Minden, Germany, based in the requisitioned Melita coffee factory, before being demobilised in December 1945.
“My father was 28 when he was wounded. Despite constant pain from shrapnel in his leg, he never complained through to his death in 2010 aged 93. He talked little about the war, as was the case for so many who had been involved in the fighting. For my mother, the war was an opportunity to get out of rural Dorset and do something very different; she admitted her varied service was exciting.
“I am very proud of my parents’ service to this Nation and I know they were delighted when I joined my father’s Regiment, The Royal Regiment of Artillery. They would be very proud both of my military service, and also of the fact that I am now part of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity. SSAFA was there then for service men and women, veterans and their families just as we are here today; I take great comfort in that as I remember them and seek to sustain their legacies as well as SSAFA’s ability to assist those needing some help.”