D-Day 80 The Last Veterans: Betty Withers

Betty Withers, Age 99, Women's Royal Naval Service

Interviewed 4 March 2024

A cook stationed on the south coast in the build-up to the invasion, Mrs Withers was at Hayling Island where a significant part of the amphibious training for D-Day took place. 

The Royal Navy had requisitioned the Royal Hotel by the coast to house Royal Marines.

It then became known as HMS Dragonfly - the operational base for the exercises and training and where a number of Wrens also worked.

She said: "There was a seaside cafe on the front and that was the Petty Officer and Marine Commando mess. 

"One day in May we were told to go to where we worked. We were told to stay indoors. To not open the curtains. And to not come out until given the orders.

"We heard all this noise going on and people running over the flat roof of the mess and one of the sailors beckoned me to the window, and he pulled the curtain aside and about twelve feet away I saw Eisenhower and Montgomery, and I couldn’t believe it.

"But we didn’t tell anybody who we had seen because we were disobeying orders."

Those exercises taking place on the island’s beaches - and other locations including Littlehampton, Slapton Sands and Wittering -  were known as Operation Fabius. 

Hayling Island’s exercise involved thousands of men as well as landing craft and larger troop-carrying ships.

It was focused on the specific landings around Gold Beach.

Units on Hayling were also involved in constructing parts of the Mulberry Harbours alongside developing techniques, skills and equipment needed for the landings. 

In the lead up to D-Day all leave had been cancelled and no-one was allowed off the island.

Betty Withers was a cook stationed on the South coast in the build-up to the invasion. Credit: ITV Meridian

Mrs Withers added: "We knew Langstone Harbour was full of landing craft, and we knew the lads we were with the crew.

"But we had no idea about what was going on, and then instead of cooking meals for the Petty Officers at six o’clock we got to do it at eight o’clock at night.

"We knew something was going to happen, I am sure the men must have been aware.

"We cooked them a meal and when we woke up the next day the island was deserted. All the men had gone.

"And we realised then what had happened because it was announced on the radio as well.

“Our thoughts were for the young lads that I had cooked their last meal for. Because I did.

"Some came back with the landing craft and they told us who had been hit and it was a dreadful feeling to know those lads we had fun with, we were never going to see them again.

"Neither were their parents."

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