Press Centre

If I Don't Come Home - Letters From D-Day

  • Episode: 

    1 of 1

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Thu 05 Jun 2014
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    10.35pm - 11.35pm
  • Week: 

    Week 23 2014 : Sat 31 May - Fri 06 Jun
  • Channel: 

  • Status: 

The information contained herein is embargoed from press use, commercial and non-commercial reproduction and sharing into the public domain until Tuesday 27 May.
This new partly dramatised programme for ITV focuses on four Allied servicemen writing their last letters home to loved ones before D-Day.
“My darling this is a very difficult letter for me to write. As you know something may happen at any moment and I cannot tell when you will receive this. I had hoped to be able to see you during last weekend but it was impossible to get away and all the things I intended to say must be written.” Captain Norman Skinner, June 3, 1944
If I Don’t Come Home - Letters from D-Day marks the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings of June 6, 1944 by bringing to life the written thoughts of the men who took part.
Captain Alastair Bannerman was married with two small children, as was Capt Norman Skinner, from the Royal Army Service Corps. Lieutenant Glenn Dickin was a 22-year-old Canadian who had never seen action before, and Leading Aircraftman fitter Maurice Hardstaff was an RAF man who had waited more than four years for this moment to come.
Their letters are brought to life by actors including Ben Lamb (as Alastair Bannerman), Samuel West (as Norman Skinner), Seamus Morrison (as Glen Dickin) and Tom Rhys-Harries (as Maurice Hardstaff) and the programme is narrated by Matthew MacFadyen.
Using archive footage as well as contributions from the men's children and other relatives, the programme tells their stories and the story of D-Day itself, with their thoughts about the mammoth task ahead and the very real possibility they might die illustrated through their unique written accounts.
Capt Bannerman, of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, is due to lead his men ashore as part of the massive assault by the Allies on the Normandy beaches. Three days before D-Day, not knowing exactly what lies ahead, he pens a letter which becomes part of a journal, outlining his emotions to his wife Elizabeth: “From now onwards until D-Day plus One, I shall not get any letters from you… This morning this made me feel quite desperate… I felt a little empty. I am waiting so impatiently for news from you of yourself and my small sons, more than ever before in my life I am longing for you and if I am not able to send any letters at least I can write what I have to say in this little book and so express my emotions.”
Once ashore, he heads inland and leads his men on an assault on a wood, describing in a later writing the brutality of the situation when they come under heavy attack from German 88 guns. His men are forced out of the troop carrier they are travelling in and have to fight on individually: “Suddenly an 88 got our range and up went our carrier in a deafening explosion with all our ammunition, knocking us all sideways. There was nothing for it but to crawl – ‘Sauve qui peut,’ I shouted. Everyone for himself. Good luck. And the next few minutes I felt were my last.”
His son Tim, who visits the Normandy wood where his father fought, says his role at the forefront of the invasion was at odds with his earlier attitude to war: “He thought about being a pacifist. But there’s a bit here that says, ‘Finally, in the face of the foul poison of Nazi doctrine, which would destroy the flowering of our children’s minds, I am last resigned to believing that in this instance war may be the lesser of two evils the values that we still maintain, must be defended by force.”
Capt Skinner carries a picture of his wife and two young daughters ashore with him during the landings. In the days before the assault, he writes a deeply emotional and personal letter to his wife: “I'm not a dashing hero by any means but the influence of everyone around me, and the confidence of all troops has made me lose any early fears, which I expected. Whether it will last until the vital moment I can’t tell. I am sure that anyone with imagination must dislike the thought of what is coming but my fears will be more of being afraid than of what can happen to me.”
His job as part of the Royal Army Service Corps is to support the second wave of landings, and when he comes ashore in Normandy, his letter to his wife is also still in his pocket: “Please don’t worry about me more than you must. I cannot write any more just now so for the present my darling, good bye. I love you with all my heart.”
Lt Dickin, a Canadian from the Regina Rifles, is due to be part of the initial vanguard of invading forces, early on D-Day. A volunteer rather than a conscript, he writes to tell his mother not to worry about him and in doing so, downplays the very real possibility of his death: “The situation will undoubtedly occur where people will be lying in hospitals, unable to write to their friends. In that case the next of kin would be told almost immediately but no provision is made for telling friends or relatives in this country or at home. If that happens to me, you people will probably hear quite soon.
“Don’t you be worrying too hard. I am a pretty capable person. Don’t worry about me.”
LAC Hardstaff describes the sight of thousands of ships setting sail from Southampton preparing to attack the French coast as ‘stupendous’ but realises the danger he faces when he writes to his wife Dot, on the day before the landings: “I’d like you to know how I feel in this great adventure, so I’m putting things down, as they happen fully aware that you, my Darling, may never read it. If you do it will be because I deliver it. I can’t post it to you because it will never pass the censor. I can only write in snatches and cannot write to you directly anyway.”
He is due to spend the invasion in an air sea support boat patrolling the coast, rescuing casualties and providing covering fire. But when he crosses the Channel as part of the giant flotilla, he writes that he has realised the full extent of the task ahead.
“We knew then why we’d had to sail. And it made a lump come in my throat when I realised that they and I had waited four and a half years for this moment and that it had finally come.”