D-Day Dispatch: The first reporter on the beach

Fri Jun 6, 2014 10:18am EDT
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NORMANDY (Reuters) - Seventy years ago, Reuters correspondent Doon Campbell was the first reporter to set foot on the Normandy beaches with the sea-borne forces seeking to liberate Europe from Nazi Germany.

Campbell was 24 at the time, the youngest British war correspondent covering the invasion. He stayed with Reuters for 30 years, covering other events including the assassination of Gandhi. He died in 2003, aged 83.

The following is taken from his book ‘Magic Mistress – A 30 year affair with Reuters’, published in 2000:

"A smudge, brown on black in the far distance, marked our landing-area. The craft zigzagged the last mile or two, dodging the shells now coming out to meet us. There were ships everywhere, one or two smoking or even sinking, some fouling uncleared obstacles, but most of them swinging massively towards the hazy coastline that was Normandy.

"For the final lap, the skipper opened the throttle, and at 09.06 we rammed Sword Beach. The ramp thrown down from the landing-craft was steep and slippery, and I fell chest-deep into the sea lapping the mined beaches.

"The commandos, their faces smeared with camouflage grease, charged ahead. I struggled. My pack, sodden and waterlogged, strapped tight round my shoulders, seemed made for easy drowning. But a lunge forward, helped by a heave from a large corporal already in the water, gave me a first toehold.

"Ahead lay the beach. It was a sandy cemetery of the unburied dead. Bodies, some only half-dead, lay scattered about, with arms or legs severed, their blood clotting the sand.

"Behind me, through fountains of water raised by exploding shells from the coastal batteries, little ships were nudging into the shallows, and behind them a vast armada of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and close support vessels put down a paralyzing bombardment.   Continued...

Doon Campbell poses at a press centre in London, June 4th, 1994. Campbell was a editor of international information organisation Reuters, which he joined in 1943 at the age of 23.  REUTERS/Stringer