As an artillery officer for the U.S. 101st Airborne Division, Parker Alford travelled to Normandy, France, as part of the D-Day invasion. In the lead-up to D-Day, Alford was stationed near Newbury, England, in one of the sealed forest camps used by the allies to hide troops and equipment from enemy detection.
Parker A. Alford served in the 3rd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), U.S. 101st Airborne Division, which was formed in 1942 at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. Alford was an artillery officer training in the United Kingdom when he answered an appeal for artillery observers for the airborne troops. After airborne training, Alford joined the 501st PIR and was placed in charge of keeping in contact with the navy in case the battalion should require artillery support.
As part of the 101st Airborne Division Alford took part in a major parachute jump in mid-May 1944 in front of General Eisenhower and Winston Churchill that was affected by high winds, injuring many men. Around 18 May Alford and his unit were transported to a sealed forest camp near Newbury, in southwest England. Alford’s memoirs recall how isolating the living conditions were within the staging areas set-up before departure to Normandy, France. He remembers that contact with other battalions was prohibited, noting that each battalion was ‘totally enclosed in 12ft barbed wire and each unit was separated from each other’. Alford also recalls that ‘during this entire period [the unit] had no incoming mail, no phone calls and no outside communication’. But the troops accepted their stark conditions, acknowledging that at this crucial stage of the campaign the smallest mistake could have proven fatal for the success of the whole operation.
The memoirs of Allied troops are held in the D-Day Archive. They are accessible to view on request in the Portsmouth History Centre.
The U.S. Airlandings in Normandy
Shortly after midnight on 6 June 1944, D-Day began with the landing of American and British airborne troops on French soil. Two U.S. Airborne Divisions were tasked to establish a bridgehead in the sector of Sainte-Mère-Église, to back up the landing of the U.S. infantry on Utah Beach.
Portsmouth Quay House
As the Embarkation Area Headquarters for the Portsmouth sector during the D-Day campaign, Quay House was central to the successful launching of the campaign. Organising the launches of the allied troops from four areas across Portsmouth to the beaches of Normandy, France, military personnel at Quay House played a vital role in ensuring the campaign ran efficiently.
The D-Day Story
Re-opened in April 2018, the D-Day Story takes the visitors through the build up to the event, D-Day itself and the Battle of Normandy. The story is told through the perspectives of the people involved using objects, interactives and video. The impressive 83-metre long Overlord Embroidery offers a fantastic finale to the visit.
Mulberry Harbour construction site
As part of the planning for Operation Overlord, it was decided that artificial harbours would be needed in order to offload the heavy and bulky cargo needed to mount a successful invasion of Normandy. These harbours were built in Britain, towed across the channel and then assembled by the army once in the waters surrounding France.
Churchill War Rooms
The Cabinet War Rooms, beneath London, were key places in the planning of Allied forces from 1940 onwards. It was here that 115 Cabinet meetings were held under the direction of Winston Churchill. The Map Room was particularly significant and was manned by officers from each of the armed forces, who would produce a daily intelligence summary.
The Airborne Museum Sainte-Mère-Église
The Sainte-Mère-Église museum was inaugurated in 1964 right where American paratroopers were involved in fierce battles during the night of 5 to 6 June and the following days. The museum holds an important collection of uniforms, weaponry and other war memorabilia. Two additional buildings opened in June 2014.