80th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings- How Kingswood Aided the D-Day Invasion

80th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings- How Kingswood Aided the D-Day Invasion
History Senior

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landing, which took place on June 6th, 1944, and marked the start of the liberation of Nazi-occupied France.

By 1940, Nazi Germany had conquered most of Western Europe and had turned all the Channel ports in France into strongholds. This posed a significant challenge for the Allies, as they needed the harbours to land the hundreds of thousands of men and millions of tons of supplies necessary for the success of Operation Overlord, the codename given to D-Day.

Ambitious engineering led to the idea of an artificial harbour, composed of huge floating concrete caissons. This soon became known as the Mulberry Harbour, used on D-day for the landing on the Normandy beaches.

Kingswood School played an important role in the design of the Mulberry Harbour. In December 1938, Alfred Barrett Sackett, Kingswood’s Headmaster at that time, was secretly informed that the government would need to take over the school buildings. In 1939, the Admiralty commandeered the school, and Kingswood became a base for the Ministry of Defence.

Looking back 80 years, Kingswood was very different from the vibrant community of learning we see today. Surrounded by barbed wire and with armed sentries posted at each entrance, the school building had become the centre of planning for one of the most audacious engineering projects of World War II.

During this time, the Admiralty designed and oversaw the development of the floating breakwaters that formed most of the Mulberry Harbour.

Here's an interesting fact: be it by coincidence or design, the caissons that made up 9.5 kilometres of the breakwater were remarkably similar in size to our Dining Hall! Each measuring 60 metres long, 18 metres high, and 15 metres wide. Whether the engineers working at Kingswood were inspired by the size of our dining hall remains a mystery! Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to consider the parallels between the caissons and our Dining Hall.

Additionally, for many years it was rumoured that the codename ‘Mulberry’ for the harbour was thought of at Kingswood. The Admiralty’s Civil Engineer-in-Chief, who worked on the designs of the Mulberry Harbours while based at Kingswood, had his personal office overlooking the school’s mulberry tree (which still survives, although it now must be propped up). Despite this, the word Mulberry was simply the next code word on a list.

Once the designs were finalised and approved by Winston Churchill, the Allies had 150 days to build all the various components of the harbour, involving 55,000 men and carried out under a blanket of complete secrecy. This included 213 concrete caissons, each weighing over 7,000 tons.

D-Day required unprecedented cooperation between international armed forces, and we would like to take this time to thank and remember the men and women who served at this time, for their bravery, skills and dedication that helped make D-Day possible.

To remember this significant time, we have two original maps of the Mulberry Harbour on display in the Cusworth Room, together with a framed dedication from the Admiralty. One document is a working record of production progress, while the other is a unique illustrated cartoon depicting the features of the Harbour according to their codenames, designed by Francis Marshall, an artist and fashion illustrator for Vogue, who was seconded to the Admiralty’s camouflage department. This map was discovered by Mr A B Sackett in the empty school premises after the Admiralty had vacated the buildings and campus.

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80th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings- How Kingswood Aided the D-Day Invasion