Old Oakhamians and D-Day

This month's blog post has once again been written by the school historian, Brian Needham. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, we focus this month upon five Old Oakhamians who took part in this momentus event of the Second World War and who, unfortunatly, lost their lives in the attack.

The D-Day landings were the operations on Tuesday 6th June 1944 of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II and this June commemorates its 75th anniversary. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history and began the liberation of German-occupied France (and later Europe) from Nazi control, laying the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.

The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault - the landing of 24,000 US, British, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armoured divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The men landed 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, making the work of the beach-clearing teams difficult and dangerous.

German casualties on D-Day have been estimated at 4,000 to 9,000 men and Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.

It is not known how many Old Oakhamians actually participated in the D-Day landings, either in its planning, in its operation, or in the weeks afterwards as the Allies fought to establish the beachhead. However, it is known that five Old Oakhamians lost their lives during the month of June 1944 while engaged in the invasion – David Herbert Vivian Board (1921-24), David Ronald Evans (1932-36), Bernard Tresham Hardy (1928-31), Reginald Geoffrey Ryley (1920-26) and Thomas Edwin Williamson (1926-30).

David Herbert Vivian Board

Born on 24th June 1905 in Christ Church in Clifton in Bristol, the youngest son of Thomas Harding and Mary Gwladys née Cooper of Norbiton Lodge in Kingston-upon-Thames in Suttey. Entering the school in 1921, aged 16, into School House, he was appointed a School Prefect in 1924 and was a Sergeant with Certificate A in the Officer Training Corps (OTC). From Oakham he went up to Clare, Cambridge, after which he took employment in the Distillers’ Company. Following a visit to Germany on business in 1937, he joined the Territorial Army and was commissioned into the Royal Berkshire Regiment (Army Number 69830), rising to the rank of Captain. In the Second World War he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was Mentioned-in-Despatches. He was Killed-in-Action by a sniper while on a reconnaissance on D-Day on Juno Beach, aged 38, while leading a battalion and was buried in Hermanwille War Cemetery in Normandy.

David Ronald Evans

Born on 7th February 1918, the youngest son of Ernest and Hilda Evans of Hoole near Chester in Cheshire. He joined the school in Wharflands in 1932 where he became a House Prefect. He was an Athletics Colour and Cadet Quarter-Master Sergeant (CQMS) with Certificate A in the Officer Training Corps (OTC). On leaving school he joined the Westminster Bank. He enlisted in Cheshire Yeomany in 1939 and served in Palestine and Syria and earned a commission in the Cheshire Regiment in 1941 - Lieutenant (Army Number 277982) in the Cheshire Regiment attached to 1st/4th Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He served in North Africa and was part of the invasion force in Sicily and in Italy. He was killed-in-action as part of the British Liberation Army during the Normandy campaign on 25th June 1944, age 27. He is buried in grave IV C 9 Tilly sur Seulles War Cemetery in France.                                                 

The 1935-36 1st XV rugby squad. Evans is sitting on the bottom left.

Bernard Tresham Hardy

Born on 4th November 1913, the only son of Old Oakhamian Harold (Oakham 1890-1900) and Beatrice Hardy of Gundrada in Lewes in Suffolk. He joined the school in Wharflands in 1928. From Oakham, he went up to Selwyn, Cambridge, in 1931 where he rode in the Inter-Varsity motor-cycle speed trials. He enlisted in 1939 and became a despatch rider for the Royal Engineers with the British Expeditionary Force and was evacuated from Dunkirk. During the retreat to Dunkirk he was awarded the Military Medal for ‘special bravery in carrying vital messages into Arras in spite of strong enemy opposition’. He was commissioned in 1941 as Second Lieutenant (Army Number 197989) in the 13th/18th Royal Hussars, part of the Royal Armoured Corps, and was promoted to Lieutenant. He was killed-in action-on 14th June 1944, aged 30, when his tank received a direct hit. He is buried in grave 3 C 2 Hermanville War Cemetery in France

Reginald Geoffrey Ryley  

Born on 21st April 1907 in Croydon in Surrey, the son of Reginald and Maud Edith née Smith of Saxmundham in Suffolk and was baptised on 17th May at St Matthew’s in Croydon. He entered Oakham School in1920, aged 13. He was appointed a School Prefect in 1925, was a Sergeant with Certificate A in the Officer Training Corps (OTC) and played in the Rugby XV 1924 and in the Cricket XIs 1925 and 1926. He went up to Clare, Cambridge, with a Johnson Exhibition and read Classics. He became a schoolmaster at Liverpool College, where he was an Officer in the OTC. He joined the Territorial Army and was commissioned, rising to the rank of Captain. In the Second World War he enlisted in the Suffolk Regiment (Army Number 62226) and was killed-in-action on 6th June 1944 (D-Day) during the Normandy landings, aged 37. He is buried in La Delivrande War Cemetery in Douvres in Normandy.

The 1926 1st XI cricket team with Ryley standing second from the right.

Thomas Edwin Williamson

Born on 15th March 1912, the son of Griffith and Catherine Williamson of Wallasey in Cheshire and then of Rhyl in Flintshire in Wales. He joined the school in 1926, entering in Hodge Wing and then going up into School House. He was a Lance Corporal with Certificate A in the Officer Training Corps (OTC) and passed the Higher Certificate. On leaving school he entered into the legal profession, becoming a qualified solicitor in the Milk Marketing Board and enrolling in the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps.  On the outbreak of war he was commissioned (Army Number 113188) into the Ayrshire Yeomanry; as a Captain he served with the Royal Horse Artillery in North Africa, involved in the El Alamein battle in 1942 and the advance to Tunis. On his return to the UK he served with the Naval Bombardment, attached to No 4 Commando with whom he was the Forward Observation Officer. He was mortally wounded (killed-in-action) in the Normandy invasion (Queen Red Beach) on 6th June 1944 (D Day), aged 32. He was buried in grave 1 M 3 of the Hermanville War Cemetery in Normandy. 

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