Today marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, making June 6 one of the most significant dates in the history of Europe.
The allied invasion onto the beaches of Normandy in 1944 to free France from German occupation was a success thanks, in no small part, to the Wigtownshire village of Garlieston where components of the ‘Mulberry’ Harbours were secretly built prior to Operation Overlord commencing.
In 1942, in conditions of utmost secrecy, trials began at Rigg Bay and Cairnhead on one of the most audacious projects of the war - the creation of floating harbours – codenamed ‘Mulberry’ – needed to allow 132,000 British, American and Canadian troops and their equipment to be successfully landed onto the beaches codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword right under the noses of the Germans.
In 2000, local historian Jane Evans wrote the definitive history of Garlieston’s role in the war in the book ‘A Harbour Goes to War’. Until then, only snippets, local gossip and rumours of what really happened in the village during the war were known. Because of the top secret nature of the Mulberry project, even decades later those involved were reticent to talk about it. It wasn’t until local man Tom Murchie came across pictures in the Imperial War Museum in London of the Mulberry harbours being built in Garlieston and Cairnryan that the area’s vital role was finally revealed.
Much of the testing and constuction of the Mulberries took place in Wigtown Bay. A wonder of civil engineering, the Mulberry harbours consisted of a steel pierhead that could be used in conjuntion with a floating roadway that allowed ships to unload tanks onto land from out at sea. Once tested, these massive harbours were then towed in pieces across the English Channel and assembled on the D-Day beaches. Although the Germans had been successfully deceived that the invasion would be near Calais, Overlord claimed 10,300 casualties.
An exhibiton on the Mulberry Harbours, called “Garlieston’s Secret War” is on permanent display in the village.