Hayling’s D-Day rehearsal, Operation Fabius, was quite amazing – Nostalgia 

Unbelievable I know, but these were the four beaches of the invasion rehearsal for D-Day on Hayling Island.
Unbelievable I know, but these were the four beaches of the invasion rehearsal for D-Day on Hayling Island.
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In Friday’s column I said I would tell you more about the invasion of Hayling Island, or the rehearsal for the D-Day landings as it was. 

As I mentioned, apart from six years living in Surrey I have lived in the area all my life.

I must have visited Hayling Island and the beaches hundreds of times – from the days of the Hayling Billy, to cycling and later driving over.

Never in all that time had I heard of a rehearsal for the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.

The sandy beaches of Hayling at low tide were perfect for the rehearsal and a new book compiled by the late Anthony D Higham with assistance from Ken Smith and put together by Ralph Cousins is available in time for the 75th anniversary of the landings.

It is a must-have book.

There are plenty of detailed maps and photographs to illustrate the event. It can be obtained for just £6 plus p&p from (023) 9248 4024. 

What I like is the fact there is no droning introduction of what led up to D-Day. We all know the reasons. It goes straight into the story and cuts to the chase immediately.

In a top secret signal the word ‘invasion' would not have been. Instead it would have been ‘exercise' to keep secret from German agents what was occurring.

It was called Operation Fabius.

The Hayling Exercise, Operation Fabius, and subsequent D-Day operations, were directed from HMS Bulolo, a requisitioned Australian Merchant Marine.

On May 3, 1944 thousands of landing craft were loaded and left at various ports for the Solent area and assembled at sea.

Many sailed anti-clockwise around the Isle of Wight to simulate the length of time of the subsequent cross-Channel voyage to France.

Four landing beaches were laid out, spread between Staunton Avenue and Eastoke Corner, and named Fox Red, Fox Green, Easy Red and Easy Green respectively.

At 7.30am more than 200 landing ships and craft descended on their designated beaches over several hours.

The whole operation was a complete success and all done in complete secrecy.

Quite amazing.

My article on when Laurel and Hardy appeared at the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth in 1952 brought several memories from readers.

One was from James Gardener.

He says: ‘Laurel and Hardy stayed at the Queens Hotel, which was not a success. Stan had to feed the gas meter when they were paying a high price for the rooms. 

‘The last house at the Royal finished so late the only food they could have was what the hall porter could rustled up for them! Not so good. 

‘So bad was the stay in the Queens that they asked a workman repairing a window sash if he knew a good landlady.

‘There is a rumour that the then manager of the Royal said that they were exhausted and he would never book them again. Hardy had to sit all the time.’ 

I think this is an overstatement as I have read reports from many of the seaside theatres the duo appeared at and I have never read that. 

R Newcombe tells of his late nan Hilda Newcombe who worked as a waitress at Kimbels in Southsea and waited on Laurel and Hardy.

He says: ‘I mentioned to a colleague about my nan serving them, and he told me that he was a taxi driver in Portsmouth. 

‘He picked up a man who said his grandfather was walking down Albert Road and saw two fellas in bowler hats walking towards him. He was shocked when he realised it was Stan and Ollie. They asked him where a nice coffee bar was and he directed them to Kimbels.’ 

With Harry Worth on the supporting bill  on September 8, 1952  were Lonsdale Sisters, Lorraine, Aerial Kenways, The Great Cingalee, Jimmie Elliot, MacKenzie Reid and Dorothy.

In this modern world it appears the young rule everything. From politics to forecasting the weather, there are young fresh faces all over the place.

It is good to hear then that at one time, especially during the Second World War, men well over the age of retirement were still on duty. 

In 1945, The Royal Naval Barracks in Queen Street was in a terrible state after wartime bombing. 

Hundreds of panes of glass had to be replaced and hundreds of gallons of paint were obtained from ships in the dockyard.

At that time there were 16,500 officers and men widely scattered over the Portsmouth area on the books of the barracks.

More than 250 officers were using the wardroom.

Most of the officers on the staff were too old for active service.

Indeed, at one time during 1945 there were only five Royal Navy active service officers in the barracks.

The lieutenant commander in charge of parade training was aged 72 and the average age of the various commanding officers, all ex-warrant officers, was 63.