Roamer: D-Day soldier’s daughter is told at last how her father died

Author Mark Scott’s latest book ‘We Fought on D-Day’, featured here last Saturday, draws on interviews with eight D-Day veterans from Northern Ireland.
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The interviews were recorded in 2003 by Brian Henry Martin for his TV documentary about the Normandy Landings which was transmitted again last weekend.

Some of the veterans’ interviews with News Letter editor Ben Lowry - then with the Belfast Telegraph - were included in the News Letter’s special souvenir D-Day supplement on Thursday.

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Mark investigated what he called ‘flyaway comments’ - remarks made ‘in passing’ by the veterans - leading to some significant revelations.

Jim Whitehorn,1st Royal Ulster Rifleman, killed on D-DayJim Whitehorn,1st Royal Ulster Rifleman, killed on D-Day
Jim Whitehorn,1st Royal Ulster Rifleman, killed on D-Day

One of the comments was from Belfast man Stanley Burrows of the 2nd Royal Ulster Rifles while he was explaining that his battalion suffered no fatalities during the amphibious landings on Sword Beach.

Mr. Burrows said that ‘casualties at sea’ had been mentioned retrospectively, but he knew of nobody killed on the beach on D-Day.

Focusing on Mr. Burrows’ comment about ‘casualties at sea’, Mark retrieved some original archive material and discovered that one soldier was officially documented with two different service numbers, a wrong initial in his name and two dates of death - the 6th and 12th of June 1944.

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The soldier was also documented as ‘missing at sea’ as well as ‘killed in action at sea’. His name was Edmund ‘Jim’ Whitehorn, a 24-year-old Royal Ulster Rifleman from London.

Nazi war crime was committed near Cambes-en-Plaine railway haltNazi war crime was committed near Cambes-en-Plaine railway halt
Nazi war crime was committed near Cambes-en-Plaine railway halt

Listed amongst the personal papers of Captain ‘Joe’ Ryan - who commanded the 2nd Battalion’s reconnaissance section - were his soldiers’ names and landing ships.

Jim Whitehorn and 11 other Royal Ulster Rifleman were on the SS Sambut, due to land in Normandy on the 7th of June with supplies. Passing the Dover coastline at 12 noon on the 6th of June the SS Sambut was hit by enemy shelling from the Calais coast. Whitehorn was killed instantly and owing to tight secrecy at the time, along with later inaccuracies, the details of his death were lost in bureaucracy.

He left a widow, Emmie, and a 9-month-old daughter, Doreen. Mark tracked down Doreen, now aged 80 years and 9 months, and was able to tell her exactly what had happened to her father. She attended a moving ceremony in Normandy last September, at a memorial on a hillside at Ver-sur-Mer.

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The pipes and drums of the PSNI provided the music and after the padre’s oration Doreen laid a wreath of red poppies bearing her father’s name, rank and regiment.

Kurt Meyer (middle) on trial in Aurich, Germany, for war crimes in December 1945Kurt Meyer (middle) on trial in Aurich, Germany, for war crimes in December 1945
Kurt Meyer (middle) on trial in Aurich, Germany, for war crimes in December 1945

The sound of a lone piper and bugler filled the air and Jim Whitehorn, the first Royal Ulster Rifleman killed during the Normandy invasion, was finally properly remembered.

Another comment in the D-Day veterans’ interviews led Mark to “a dark discovery which exemplified the brutality of the Nazi regime.”

Belfast man Stanley Burrows and Royal Ulster Rifles colleague Richard Keegan from Lurgan both said that over the years since 1944 they’d been told that four RUR soldiers, wounded and taken prisoner on June 7 1944, were murdered by their captors.

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Though this was technically hearsay Mark searched the National Archives at Kew and Belfast’s Royal Ulster Rifles Museum and discovered an officer’s diary that corroborated the incident.

Lieutenant Cyril Rand fought in the battle for Cambes-en-Plaine (near Caen) which began on June 7 1944.

His diary confirmed that four RUR men, two who were unarmed medics, were wounded in the village of Cambes and had to be left while the initial attacking company withdrew.

A larger decisive attack was made there two days later when Cambes was taken by the Riflemen.

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Lieutenant Rand recorded that the four men who had previously been left wounded were found in a ditch, each shot through the head by a pistol.

They’d been murdered near the Cambes-en-Plaine railway halt.

A war crime had undoubtedly been committed.

The German unit responsible was the infamous 12th SS ‘Hitlerjugend’ Panzer Division, led by war criminal Kurt Meyer, who was later captured and tried at Aurich in Germany.

From official burial and exhumation records Mark believes he can identify the four victims as Corporal Ernest Rogers, Rifleman Robert Mullan and medics Henry Valentine and Michael Michaelides.

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The details surrounding this incident and other testimonies by local men who fought with the Royal Ulster Rifles are in Mark’s book, aptly entitled ‘We Fought on D-Day - Ulstermen in Normandy, in their own words’ available from Colourpoint/Blackstaff press and local bookshops.