From the Archive
D-Day Anniversary: HGA Elphinstone (1928)
Thursday 06th June 2024

The following is the address given in Chapel by our Chaplain Ed Barker (Hon.) on Wednesday 5th June 2024:

This Thursday, 6th June 2024, is a day to remember. Not just because it’s the day after your A Level Politics paper, or even the day before your Tudor History Exam. Thursday is the 80th anniversary of D-Day, which took place on the 6th June 1944. I hope that most of you know what D-Day is. D-Day was one of the most important turning points in the Second World War. It marked the invasion of Nazi-held Western Europe by British, American and Canadian troops. Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister during WWII, famously said after the Battle of El Alamein in 1942, “now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”. Well after D-Day, it certainly was the beginning of the end.
The invasion began shortly after midnight on the morning of 6th June with the dropping of 24,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines. There then followed a massive naval and air bombardment of the Normandy defences, followed by the largest sea-borne invasion in history at 6.30am. Supported by over 7,000 ships and nearly 12,000 aircraft, over 132,000 soldiers were put ashore along a 50 mile stretch of France. They landed on beaches given nicknames: The British beaches were Gold and Sword, the American Omaha and Utah, and the Canadian beach was called Juno.

The men landed in small crafts that came right up to the beach, and disembarked under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, leading to high casualties. At Omaha, the Americans had to fight up high cliffs, overlooked by machine guns. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, after the beaches were secured, British and Canadian troops had to clear fortified towns with house-to-house fighting. German casualties on D-Day have been estimated at 4,000 to 9,000 men. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.

So why am I talking about this? Well, the first reason is as I said; this week sees the 80th anniversary of that terrible day. We are living in the last years of a human connection to WWII; the remaining veterans of the conflict are now all in their late 90s or early 100s, and this is likely to be the last anniversary attended by them in any great number. If you are lucky enough to know any WWII veterans, I urge you to ask them about it – it didn’t occur to me when I was young to ask my relatives about what they could remember about WWI or WWII, and it is something I regret.

The second reason is, as always with a school like ours, we have a historic connection with D-Day. There were many Lorettonians who took part in D-Day, but there is one in particular that I am going to talk about.

You will have all passed under the doors of the Chapel. You should all know that above the door are the names of the 90 Old Lorettonians who gave their life in WWII. They are divided into panels according to the year that they were killed. If you look at the 1944 panel, you will see the name HGA Elphinstone. He was a Lorettonian just like you. He sat in this Chapel, he may even have stared up at the names inscribed on the First World War memorial. He is the Lorettonian who was killed on Gold beach during the D-Day landings. So someone who sat here in Chapel experienced what I just described. Not only that, but his initials - HGA - stand for Harold George Almond. He was the grandson of our great headmaster Hely Hutchinson Almond. You might remember that all three of Almond’s Lorettonian sons were killed in WWI. But this family who had given their country and this school so much, also lost a grandson on D-Day.

I’m going to read to you Elphinstone’s entry from the roll of honour. You will see that, like so many Lorettonians, he was a very impressive character. Major Harold George Almond Elphinstone, The Royal Engineers, grandson of Dr Almond and great-great grandson of Sir Howard Elphinstone of Sowerby, Cumberland, a Major General of the Peninsular War, was born on the 9th April 1910, and at Loretto from May 1922 to July 1928. He was a house prefect, a prize-winner in the 6th form, in the rugby 1st XV squad, and a corporal in the CCF. From school he went to the Royal Military Academy, passing out 12th in his class of over one hundred. Having joined the Royal Engineers, he went to Jesus College Cambridge on an officers’ course, and obtained a second-class honours degree in Engineering. He then served for some years in India, took part in the Waziristan campaign of 1937-8 and was promoted Major in 1940. At the beginning of the war he served in Iran, Iraq and Syria and in 1942 fought in North Africa, being present at the battle of El Alamein (which I mentioned earlier). He was now specialising in intensive assault training. On D-Day, he landed on Gold beach and was killed in the course of the engagement that followed. For his gallant leadership in this action Major Elphinstone was mentioned in Despatches.

Being mentioned in Despatches is a very big deal in the Army; it means you’ve done something so noteworthy, that you have been personally named in the report of the day. Considering that that day was D-Day, this is an even greater honour. Let me read to you what Elphinstone’s mention was:

“He and his men did a wonderful job for those coming close behind. They were magnificent, and sacrificed themselves so that others might live and get through the defences. He was a loyal and determined officer, and, with his quiet manner, a fine example of steadiness and steadfastness to his men. This was reflected in his unit, which was very efficient”

You will note that it specifically mentions attributes about which we have spoken in Chapel this year; loyalty, determination, setting an example, being steadfast (trusting the plan). Not only did Elphinstone embody all of the qualities that make a good Lorettonian, he followed the ultimate example of Jesus Christ that we heard about in our reading; he sacrificed himself so that others might live. I can think of no greater tribute to the red blazer of Loretto than this. So when you read about all the 80th anniversary commemorations of D-Day later this week, even if you are in the midst of exams, I want you to think about and remember Major Harold George Almond Elphinstone OL, who gave his life so that others might live.

Ed Barker (Hon.)
Chaplain, Head of History and Politics

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