This article was written by Robert Brown, and published in the Gazette on May 28, 2004.

THERE must be many people under the age of 65 who cannot understand why Britain is commemorating D-Day on June 6 this year, and what it was all about.

D-Day was the term used for the great invasion of Europe in 1944 – 60 years ago – which involved 4,000 allied ships and 11,000 aeroplanes.

As far as Basingstoke people were concerned, the war had brought death and destruction from the German bombs that fell in 1940, especially in Church Square, where eight people were killed.

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Basingstoke Gazette: Church Square in August 1940

But, unknown to them, preparations for D-Day had been going on for several years, since the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, when thousands of troops were brought back in the “little ships” to Britain after the Germans had trapped them on the coast of France.

By the end of April 1944 Hampshire had been converted into a vast network of camps and airfields. Woodlands and forest areas were used to cover up hundreds of military vehicles from the air, as it was feared that German aeroplanes would see them.

The narrow roads between Basingstoke and Winchester were lined with trucks of various types, while, not far away, large tents were used for storing food, ammunition and other essential stock.

At Lasham airfield, and other aerodromes, squadrons of RAF aeroplanes awaited the signal to move off.

The Southern Railway was busy bringing tanks and other heavy machines and equipment through Basingstoke to Southampton with some of the goods trains being kept at the local goods yard overnight while the drivers slept.

Many gliders, made at a furniture factory at Newbury, were also transported by rail to the large port.

The whole operation relied on a huge project to build the Mulberry Harbour, which consisted of 146 enormous concrete caissons, 200 feet long, 65 feet wide and 60 feet high.

They looked like the biblical “Noah’s Ark” but without a roof. The caissons were built at various places, such as the Thames estuary, and the ports of Southampton, Portsmouth, Leith, Glasgow and Birkenhead, with a total of 20,000 workmen being involved in the operation – all of whom were sworn to secrecy.

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Basingstoke Gazette: Harbour wall

When the caissons were completed they were towed down to the English Channel in readiness for their use as a harbour.

Several Basingstoke people who travelled to Southampton to work, when enquiring as to what the caissons were for, were told that they were to prevent German shipping from approaching the English coast!

On June 6, 1944, the caissons were towed by 200 tug boats to Arromanches, Normandy, and, at a given signal, they were sunk to the bed of the sea so that the higher parts stood above the waves to act as a harbour wall.

But before that happened, at first light on that morning, hundreds of gliders were towed across the Hampshire skies and over Basingstoke, to land on French soil, where troops quickly secured the land close to the beaches.

At the same time, a large number of parachuters were dropped from aeroplanes to the areas near bridges to protect the Allied forces from German counter-attacks.

The Germans had believed that any invasion would have been in the Calais area of France.

Once the Mulberry Harbour had been laid down into the sea, then a large fleet of assorted ships entered it through a gap left for that purpose, and troops alighted onto the beaches with various vehicles and equipment.

By the end of the day on June 6, some 156,000 Allied troops had landed on the shore and advanced up to six miles inland.

Over the following days, other structures were brought in – such as pierheads – to make the landings easier.

But on June 19, extra strong gale force winds swept up the English Channel and brought chaos to the floating breakwaters, tearing their moorings apart and scattering the wreckage across the channel.

But, by then, the actual invasion was over and the military forces were making their way towards Germany to bring the European war to an end by May of 1945.

On May 8 of that year (VE-Day), Britain celebrated the victory for which it had been waiting for six years.

As the troops returned home to tell their stories of the fight against Hitler and his country, the information about Mulberry Harbour was released. Certain local people were involved, and this feature is based on their stories.