In commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, Stephen Wainwright describes how the invasion news was received in St Helens... 

There was only one thing that St Helens folk wanted to do when news of the Normandy landings came through – and that was to pray.

The St Helens Reporter on June 9 1944 wrote: "Women workers with polka-dot handkerchiefs thrown lightly over their hair and tied under the chin, workmen, school children and members of the general public made special visits to the churches in St Helens shortly after the opening of the Second Front was announced on Tuesday."

The news of the Allies' invasion was broken by radio and as some works in St Helens relayed BBC broadcasts, their workers heard the announcement live.

In other places, their management interrupted production to let their staff know that the landings in Normandy had begun.

Some of the female factory workers were described as having been visibly affected by the news, appreciating the added danger their loved ones at the front would now be in.

At lunchtime many women walked to their nearest church to kneel quietly in prayer. And once they had completed their day's labours, hundreds more went in their overalls to pray.

Special services were quickly arranged for the success of the mission and for what the Reporter described as the "safety of the men who had gone out to fight on the beaches of France for the liberation of Europe and the enslaved nations".

St Helens Star: An article from the Liverpool Evening ExpressAn article from the Liverpool Evening Express (Image: Stephen Wainwright)

St Helens Parish Church and St Andrew's Mission in Dentons Green posted notices advising their parishioners that prayer services would take place each evening at 9.45 pm "after the news".

Television had been suspended and the 9 o’clock news on the BBC Home Service had become a must-listen broadcast to keep abreast of the latest developments.

In a separate article the Reporter advised its readers to expect setbacks over the next few months and not be too eager to learn the latest invasion news. Instead people were told to adopt the motto "Patience, brother, patience".

They warned that the Nazi leaders would not surrender unconditionally, predicting that the: "…gangsters and generals together [would] plan and plot for a desperate last stand."

On the following day (June 7) the monthly meeting of St Helens Town Council took place and the Mayor, Cllr George Marsden, made this moving speech: "Our thoughts must at this moment be fixed upon France, where the greatest invasion of all time has been launched. Our hearts go out to our fellow citizens who have near relatives engaged in this great conflict. I am sure we all ask God's blessing on this great venture and pray for the safe return of our boys."

St Helens Star: A St Helens Newspaper article on June 9, 1944A St Helens Newspaper article on June 9, 1944 (Image: Stephen Wainwright)

"Invasion" or "Second Front" were the terms then used in the St Helens papers and it took several weeks for "Operation Overlord" and "D-Day" to be employed.

The latter was a commonly used term by the military to refer to the first day of an operation with the "D" standing for "Day". And so "D-Day" really means "Day Day"!

It took a fortnight before casualty details were reported in the local newspapers and extracts from letters published. Pte Peter Rigby from Ormskirk Road in Rainford had been wounded and from his hospital bed wrote to his mother: "Don't worry about me. I am going on all right."

Lance Corporal William Burchall of Alfred Street in St Helens received what was described as the surprise of his life when his parents walked into his hospital ward in York with his mother declaring: "You never know!" William had neck and arm wounds inflicted while landing on the beaches of Normandy.

St Helens Star:  St Helens Reporter, June 9, 1944 St Helens Reporter, June 9, 1944 (Image: Stephen Wainwright)

And Horace Ranson from Parr wrote from his hospital bed: "I got it in my right leg and left arm. My leg is pretty smashed up, but is coming on fine now after the operation.

They've been pumping blood into me, and it has made me feel much stronger. The people here are just grand."

Sadly, there would be many more reports of St Helens soldiers injured and killed in the many months to come before the war would be over.

Stephen Wainwright's new book The Hidden History Of St Helens Vol 4 is available from the St Helens Book Stop and online from eBay and Amazon with free delivery.

Price £12. Vols 1 to 3 are also still available