WWII memorial at risk
From commandos to D-Day and much in between
October 30, 2012, Press Dispensary. A long overdue memorial to the Combined Operations Command of WWII is nearing completion in the grounds of the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. But without fresh funds, the memorial's completion and dedication ceremony, planned for summer 2013, may be curtailed, says organiser Geoff Slee.
Donations from veterans, their families and friends have come in from around the world. From these and fund-raising events, £11,000 has been raised so far. However, a similar amount is now required to complete the memorial and provide for the dedication ceremony. Donations are sought at the Combined Operations website, where limited edition prints of David Thorp's painting, "Combined Operations – A Normandy Beachhead", are also for sale.
At a recent publicity event held at Churchill's birthplace, Blenheim Palace, Edinburgh-based Geoff said: "Churchill created the Combined Operations Command in the summer of 1940 and bestowed upon it the daunting task of planning the largest amphibious invasion force in history. Hundreds of thousands of personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Forces of many nations undertook joint training exercises and operations over the best part of 4 years, culminating in Operations Neptune and Overlord on D-Day, June 6th, 1944."
Among the assault troops that morning was Bill Millin, the iconic "mad piper" of No. 4 Commando. The photo shows Geoff presenting Bill's son, John, with a limited edition print of "Combined Operations – A Normandy Beachhead" in the North Courtyard of Blenheim Palace. Looking on is Military artist, David Thorp, who generously donated the painting to the memorial fund. In the print, Lord Lovat and Bill can be seen leading their Commando comrades in arms from their landing craft onto the beach under withering enemy fire.
As a Commando, Bill wore the Combined Operations patch on his arm, the design of which is the central feature of the Combined Operations Memorial. John said: "My Father was very proud of the part he played as Lord Lovat's piper on D-day. He made and lost many friends within Combined Operations. From a very early age I was aware of his dedication to the memory of everyone who wore the Combined Ops patch, particularly those who did not come home. Dad's commitment was passed to me and from me to my children. It is an honour to help younger generations understand what Combined Operations did during WW2 and to preserve the memory through the completion and dedication of the Combined Operations Memorial."
The painting will be raffled, auctioned or sold in due course but, meantime, prints of the painting are available in four sizes including a limited edition run of 73.
Tony Chapman, erstwhile archivist and historian of the LST and Landing Craft Association, who provided the bulk of the historical input, explained "The painting does not portray a particular event but all the actions described did take place in the area over the space of a few hours early on D-Day morning. With the skill of the artist, David brought them together in a seamless, evocative montage." There's a full explanation of the action in the painting on the website, including a print-friendly version.
The associated Combined Operations website, www.combinedops.com, which receives 250,000 visits per year from around the world, is the educational component of the memorial. Click through the "Memorial" link at the top of any webpage to open up the memorial sub web where all the information about Combined Operations, the memorial and the prints can be found.
Donations to the memorial fund and orders for prints can be made on-line by following the 'Memorial' link on the Combined Operations website or email Geoff at for further information or advice. The prints cost from £35 to £73 + p&p.
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Notes for editors
One visitor to the website wrote, “As with all who sacrificed their lives humanity owes them a debt which can NEVER be repaid… the Merchant Navy have Tower Hill, the Royal Navy have Chatham Portsmouth, the Royal Air Force have Runneymede, and so on…. and so they should, but I feel the contribution made by the collective units of Combined Operations, and those who died during operations, has gone without commemoration for far too long.”
The first stage of the memorial was completed in April 2012 at a cost of £11,000. A similar amount is required to fully fund the project which includes the cost of the dedication and information plaques, provision of an information display board, the dedication ceremony, fees and provision for future maintenance.
The website was conceived by Edinburgh resident, Geoffrey Slee, in the spring of 2000 following numerous discussions with his father in law who had served in Combined Operations during WW2. John Glen had been a radar technician on one of three converted landing ship tanks (LSTs) that provided radar cover off the Normandy beaches until land based units were established on French soil. Eager to find out more, Geoff’s Internet searches drew a blank, so he read a few books, taught himself to design and construct websites and published a few web pages later that year. Of that time he said, “That’s where it would have ended had it not been for the articles, photos and other material received from veterans and their families at home and abroad who were keen to add to the historical record for the benefit of future generations.”
With ever increasing website visits and countless messages of support and encouragement, he launched a memorial fund raising effort in 2004 without a memorial site or a design. His act of faith paid off handsomely with the erection of a striking memorial in the grounds of the Nation’s premier place of remembrance – a memorial whose design reflects the land, sea and air forces that worked closely together as a single, unified, fighting force – hence the name “Combined Operations.”
There's a high level of symbolism in the design and content of the memorial. The Land, Sea and Air forces are represented by the 3 trees and 3 stones - oak for the Navy, ash for Army and Sitka Spruce for the RAF. Oak was used in the construction of the early wooden battle ships including HMS Victory, ash was used in the construction of wheels and limbers for artillery pieces, frames and wheels for field transport (RAMC and RASC lorries), pick-axe handles and the rings for rope ladders while the Sitka spruce was used in the construction of early 'stick and string' planes right through to the modern era. The stones come from Loch Fyne in Scotland where hundreds of thousands of service personnel trained in amphibious landing techniques under the auspices of Combined Operations and the spear-head shape is indicative of the archetypal attack formation adopted during raids and landings.
It's all brought together in a tranquil setting on the banks of the River Tame in the grounds of the National Memorial Arboretum, a most fitting location for amphibious operations that were the hallmark of the Combined Operations Command.
For more information visit www.combinedops.com and click through the “Memorial” link in the page banner to the memorial sub web or contact Geoff on 0131 477 2742 or
A Nation's Gratitude - Signal to Mountbatten, June 12, 1944.
Today we visited the British and American Armies on the soil of France. We sailed through vast fleets of ships with landing-craft of many types pouring more men, vehicles and stores ashore. We saw clearly the manoeuvre in progress of rapid development. We have shared our secrets in common and helped each other all we could. We wish to tell you at this moment in your arduous campaign that we realise how much of this remarkable technique and therefore the success of the venture has its origin in developments effected by you and your staff of Combined Operations.
[Mountbatten was in charge of the Combined Operations for two years from October 1941.]
For further information please contact
Geoffrey Slee, Website owner/author and organiser of the Combined Operations Memorial
Tel: 0131 477 2742 / 07914 208 699
Site: www.combinedops.com http://bit.ly/SZxvgQ
Images for download
Click on any image to view or download in higher resolution.
David Thorp (L) and Geoff Slee present John Millin (R), son of piper Bill Millin, with a limited edition print of the painting "Combined Operations – A Normandy Beachhead" in the North Courtyard of Blenheim Palace.
Painted by David A Thorp and gifted to the Combined Operations Memorial Fund. Prints available from £35 - £73 + p&P, proceeds to memorial fund.