Invasion on Normandy

Military Parachuting History

This is James Hill's Account of his D-Day Experiences....Continued!

The Skies are Ours!

It's a Dog's Life

From January 1943 until D-Day in June 1944, we had to keep the chaps interested and on top form. One of the things I introduced in order to do that was parachuting dogs. A team of paratroops were trained in handling Alsatian messenger dogs. The dogs were given bicycle parachutes, as they were roughly the same weight as bicycles. The first time we took one of the dogs up he didn't want to jump, so we shoved him out. It turns out he enjoyed himself so much that the next time he couldn't wait to go! The dogs were trained to be messengers, but they were really just a sideshow to keep the men amused.

Carrots for Night Vision

At that time there were two fighter pilots who became known for being highly successful at shooting the enemy down at night - Cat's Eyes Cunningham and a chap called White Boycott, who had been at school with me. Rumour was that they were so good at night fighting because they ate a lot of carrots, and so we also ate carrots until we were quite sick of the things.

I was lucky enough to have lunch with Cat's Eyes Cunningham recently, just before he died, and he told me that their success had nothing to do with eating carrots. The carrot story was just a ruse to prevent the enemy from finding out that they were equipped with the very latest form of radar.

Getting the Men to Church

I wanted all of my brigade to go to church at least once a month, but some of the chaps didn't like this very much. So to motivate them I would make them carry 60 pounds of equipment to church, which they stacked up outside under guard before going inside. After the service I would take them for a 20-mile march. I thought that might motivate them to enjoy their time at church a bit more!

The interesting thing is that, after D-Day, a number of people told me what a difference those church visits had made. When we were crossing the North Sea on D-Day it was a pretty rough night, and sitting in those planes were men of 22 who had never seen a shot fired in anger and were now flying into enemy territory. Up against something like that, even an atheist wants to pray.

Boosting Moral

Napoleon said that "the moral is to the physical as two is to one". I found that if you are very fit, your morale is automatically good, and I put an awful lot of effort into getting the chaps extremely fit. It's amazing what a fit young body can take in the way of wounds and survive.

The other thing that is important for morale is to be fighting a noble cause. I could not have fought for six years if I hadn't believed our cause to be completely right. I was asking those chaps to possibly die for the cause, I had to believe the cause to be true. I loved the men of my brigade, and if you love people they'll love you too, they'll follow you, and they'll have respect for you.

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Author: James Hill

James Hill was a Commander for the 3rd Parachute Brigade in the 6th Airborne Division in 1943.