(Campbell's picture can be seen here)
NORMANDY, June 6 Seventy years ago, Reuters
correspondent Doon Campbell was the first reporter to set foot
on the Normandy beaches with the sea-borne forces seeking to
liberate Europe from Nazi Germany.
Campbell was 24 at the time, the youngest British war
correspondent covering the invasion. He stayed with Reuters for
30 years, covering other events including the assassination of
Gandhi. He died in 2003, aged 83.
The following is taken from his book 'Magic Mistress - A 30
year affair with Reuters', published in 2000:
"A smudge, brown on black in the far distance, marked our
landing-area. The craft zigzagged the last mile or two, dodging
the shells now coming out to meet us. There were ships
everywhere, one or two smoking or even sinking, some fouling
uncleared obstacles, but most of them swinging massively towards
the hazy coastline that was Normandy.
"For the final lap, the skipper opened the throttle, and at
09.06 we rammed Sword Beach. The ramp thrown down from the
landing-craft was steep and slippery, and I fell chest-deep into
the sea lapping the mined beaches.
"The commandos, their faces smeared with camouflage grease,
charged ahead. I struggled. My pack, sodden and waterlogged,
strapped tight round my shoulders, seemed made for easy
drowning. But a lunge forward, helped by a heave from a large
corporal already in the water, gave me a first toehold.
"Ahead lay the beach. It was a sandy cemetery of the
unburied dead. Bodies, some only half-dead, lay scattered about,
with arms or legs severed, their blood clotting the sand.
"Behind me, through fountains of water raised by exploding
shells from the coastal batteries, little ships were nudging
into the shallows, and behind them a vast armada of battleships,
cruisers, destroyers and close support vessels put down a
"It would be no good trying to bolt up the beach with the
commandos, though many of them were also carrying collapsible
bicycles. For me, every step was an effort under the
backbreaking load of my pack.
"Dripping wet, like my trousers, it felt as if I weighed a
ton. While the commandos surged ahead until swallowed up in the
brooding woods, I edged along the protective shelter of a garden
wall, crossed the pot-holed road into a field and stumbled into
a ditch about 200 yards (180m) from the beach. There I stayed
with the wounded.
"We fought to stay alive in that shallow furrow, clawing at
the soggy soil for depth that at least made us feel a little
less exposed to the withering mortar and shellfire. Whether
falling short or whistling overhead, it never let up.
"Earth spurted in with every near miss and more water seeped
through our clothes. But we thanked God for that damp dirty
"With every pause in fire, I was wrestling to ease myself
out of the commando pack harness. When it was finally detached,
I opened it almost furtively, and found my portable typewriter
"I got a sheet of paper in and started pecking at the
keyboard, but it was hopeless; every time I tried to type, a
mortar exploded a few yards away or hit the lip of the ditch and
a shower of dirt clogged the keys. So I tore a page from a
school exercise book and scribbled a few lines from 'A ditch 200
yards inside Normandy'. It never reached Reuters.
"Leaving the ditch, I wriggled and crawled back to the
beach, flinging myself flat every few yards, then spurting
forward again when I imagined the Germans might be reloading....
A naval officer, operating a shuttle between Normandy and the
English coast, agreed to take my grimy bits of paper and try to
get them back to Reuters. I gave him 5 punds, and never saw him