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  • Andrew P.M. Wright

D-Day anniversary plaque to be unveiled at station where American soldiers left for Normandy

Photo: Andrew P.M. Wright

A plaque marking the 80th anniversary of the Allied D-Day invasion of France in June, 1944, is to be unveiled at the station from where young American soldiers boarded a train on their way to the horrors of Omaha Beach in Normandy.

The tribute is to be unveiled at Swanage station on Monday, 27 May, 2024, at 1.30pm in the presence of Peter Lovett, a D-Day veteran who lives in Swanage, together with civic and community guests.

The poignant plaque remembers and honours the men of the 26th Infantry Regiment of the US Army’s First Infantry Division which was known as the ‘Big Red One’ because of the distinctive red shoulder flash worn on the uniforms of the soldiers.

The American troops – known as GIs - were billeted in Swanage between November, 1943, and April, 1944, while they trained for D-Day and their part in the largest maritime invasion in history.

Swanage Railway Trust trustee Robert Patterson said: “The billeting of the American GIs in Swanage is an important part of the town's history and it was clear that the Swanage Railway should commemorate this as well as the role that our railway played and the sacrifices made by the young men as they fought for our freedom.

“The plaque will have a prominent position on the station platform to remind and educate our passengers about this momentous part of our history and the small part the Swanage Railway played in helping to secure the Allied victory against Nazi tyranny.

“The Swanage Railway transported the American GIs, and their equipment, to and from the town as well as also being an important link for the soldiers to happier times - away from the harshness of training for war - by transporting them on weekend passes to Bournemouth and London.

“The plaque is an important reminder of the sacrifices that many young men made for our freedom - particularly the young American troops who made friends in Swanage but subsequently lost their lives during the attack on Omaha beach in Normandy on the morning of D-Day, 1944,” explained Robert who is volunteer porter on the Isle of Purbeck heritage line.

Growing up in Swanage, the late Albert Weekes was a 15-year old junior porter at Swanage station in 1944 who remembered the sunny April day that the American GIs left by train from the seaside town bound for Devon ahead of D-Day, 1944.

“The first Americans started arriving at Swanage station and waited in the goods yard, by the old cattle dock, and on the station forecourt with their kit. They talked, smoked and chatted as they lay on their kit bags and waited for the train to come in.

“Boarding their long train, the GIs leaned out of the train windows as they left for D-Day. They were cheerful and gave me the thumbs up and I smiled and returned the gesture. I always wondered what happened to them and whether they came back.

“American GIs used to come to Swanage station and sit on the platform. I suppose they felt that sometime they would be boarding the train and going home to the United States.

“When the American GIs left Swanage, it was as though the world stopped turning – it was hectic while they were in the town and then all the activity stopped,” added Albert.

The late Bill Lee, who lived in the town of Mount Vernon in Illinois, was a 23-year old American GI billeted with the 26th Infantry Regiment in Swanage between November, 1943, and April, 1944, who made a nostalgic return to the seaside town 45 years later.

Speaking in 1989, Bill said: “The Swanage railroad was a vital link to happy times with new-found friends. It took us away from the harshness of training for war and was a friendly little line. I still recall it and remember the kind people I met there with affection.

“The people of the Isle of Purbeck were an important part of our lives and we needed that. We were brash, different and full of bravado but they took us in as part of their families – and for that we will always be grateful and never forget.

“Our brash, happy and outgoing exteriors were veneers – a cover because we did not want to get hurt at a time when close friends were being killed – there one minute and gone out of our lives the next,” added the retired American postmaster.

The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers and anyone interested in finding out more should contact the Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention officer Lisa Gravett on 01929 475212 or email Details about volunteering can also be found at

Story and photograph by Andrew P.M. Wright,

Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.


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