Library & Archives Blog – “Keep Calm and Use Your Head”

D-Day Anniversary Blog

6th June marks the 80th anniversary of the D-Day Landings.  Operation Overlord established a foothold along the coast of France and enabled allied troops to advance into Europe.

Airborne forces parachuted into drop-zones across northern France in total darkness. Then an amazing 150,000 troops landed on the Normandy beaches – code names Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword. More than 5000 ships and landing crafts were employed in the biggest amphibious invasion ever seen.

Preparations began in late 1943, and North Yorkshire played a significant role in those preparations. The site of the medieval Kirkham Priory, near Malton, on the banks of the River Derwent, was ideal for testing military craft and vehicles to check their water-proofing. Scrambling nets were hoisted on to the high wall of the western cloisters for troops to practice transferring from the large ships to smaller landing crafts. Such was the importance of this secret training camp that the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill and King George VI both visited to observe.

Another local contributor to the success of the landings was Scarborough’s secret naval listening station which intercepted German naval communications, sending them to Bletchley Park where they were decrypted. In the run-up to Operation Overlord they provided vital intercepts of the U-Boat threat and enemy mine-laying defences.

Our archives contain a lot of material relating to World War II, all of which can be viewed by appointment. Items that particularly caught my eye were the various pamphlets and booklets issued by the Government. One published in 1939 offered “Some things you should know if war should come”.  This publication gave the population a preview of what was to come with valuable information about potential lighting restrictions, gas masks and evacuation. It also instructed that “In war you should carry about with you your name and address clearly written. This should be on an envelope, card or luggage label not on some odd piece of paper easily lost. In the case of children a label should be fastened, e.g. sewn, on to their clothes in such a way that it will not readily become detached.”

Other literature includes “Advising the public in the event of an invasion”, “National Service”, “The protection of your home against air-raids” and “Your food in war time”.

However, my favourite has to be a pocket-sized booklet entitled “Instructions and hints for fishing and general information.” This publication is obviously intended for use by members of the armed forces finding themselves adrift on the ocean in a small boat or dinghy. It even includes helpful suggestions should you find yourself washed up on an uninhabited island.

This is some of the advice given in the booklet:

“Follow these instructions with care. They may spare you much needless suffering, or even save your life.  Keep calm and use your head : steadiness and good temper have got many a man out of the same fix as you are in.”

“If you can catch fish you will not die of hunger or thirst. The flesh of fish caught in open sea is good to eat, cooked or raw, and is healthy and nourishing.”

It seems that a small fishing kit was also provided, comprising a line, three spinners, and three single hooks of varying sizes. “Never tie your line fast to your finger, hand, foot or dinghy” was sound advice.

It then gives some more detailed information.

“The whole meat, blood and juice of a turtle are good to eat.” 

“All birds are good to eat, cooked or raw. Save the feathers for your spinners; stuff them inside your shirt for warmth.” 

“No seaweed is poisonous. Chew it up fine and swallow it.” 

“Eels are fish and good to eat, but be careful not to mistake sea snakes for eels.”

And for castaways on that uninhabited island –

“All animals are safe to eat – monkeys, bats, lizards, land turtles, frogs, and even snakes, including poisonous snakes as long as they have not bitten themselves. Grubs found in the ground or in rotten wood make good food; so do grass-hoppers toasted on a stick; pick off legs and wings before cooking.  But do not eat any caterpillars, many kinds are poisonous.”


In this anniversary year, Whitby Museum has a special exhibit about a local man’s war, from enlisting in 1942 at the age of 18 to de-mob and his later life back home in Whitby. On board HMS Orion, Malcolm Howard participated in the evacuation of Crete, escorted convoys between Malta and Alexandria and was part of Operation Overlord, off Gold Beach. There are many photos, maps and letters on display, giving a detailed insight into the life of a young man who answered the call to serve his country.

Finally, below are some articles taken from the Digital Whitby Gazette relating to D-Day memories:

Whitby Gazette: Sept 28th 2012 Page 9

Whitby Gazette: June 3rd 1994 Page 20 D-Day 50th Anniversary Tribute

Whitby Gazette: June 3rd 1994 Page 21 D-Day 50th Anniversary Tribute

Lynn Hilton (Volunteer) & Claire Marris (Archive Development Officer)

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