Mary (95) recalls the D-Day Landings

World War II veteran Mary Lawson
World War II veteran Mary Lawson

Seventy years after the daring Allied invasion of Normandy, one Kirkintilloch resident has spoken of the secrecy and tension of D-Day.

Throughout the Second World War, Mary Lawson served as a sound engineer with the BBC and formed part of a dedicated news gathering network.

She was one of the first to hear of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and later helped to record and broadcast General Eisenhower’s famous speech which marked the beginning of the D-Day landings.

Mary (95) recalls the eery build-up to the invasion as the centre of London became increasingly militarised.

She said: “It was a very strange atmosphere; we would sit there, in the basement of the BBC, recording war reports and sending out broadcasts to the whole of Europe.

“No one was really sure when D-Day would begin but we all knew it was coming.

“The streets of London were filled with thousands of American soldiers. Indeed, the entire south of England was like an enormous armed camp, with tanks in almost every side street.

“I remember one morning I was down at Hammersmith Broadway when an American tank rolled past.

“A soldier approached and handed me an envelope but before I could open it the arm of a police officer came from behind me and snatched it away.

“Shortly after that, during a shift, we were informed that we couldn’t take any leave. We knew then that it had begun.”

For Mary, the D-Day landings bring back painful experiences as she was later informed that she had lost two close relatives at ‘Juno’ beach.

She said: “Two of my Canadian cousins were at Normandy and unfortunately we lost them both. It was especially hard because I had spoken to them not long before that.

“Some of the others had husbands on that beach and didn’t know what happened to them until weeks later.”

For Mary, life during WWII was shrouded in deep secrecy.

Her reticence was a vital part of the Allies’ campaign and any loose chatter could have posed dire consequences for the armed forces.

She said: “The old expression ‘careless talk costs lives’ was never more appropriate.

“We were told to live our lives as normal as possible but that was extremely difficult.

“But there was a lot of tension at the time — you daren’t tell anyone what you were doing, not even your family.”

Though she also worked as a part-time ambulance driver, Mary’s prime duty was to sift through the onslaught of war reports and compile a radio broadcast for the 9pm news.

To this day, memories of those days at the BBC continue to resurface as many documentary films re-use some of her own work.

She said: “Sometimes, when I see these WWII programmes, I hear radio pieces and say to my children ‘I broadcast that message’.

“It really is amazing to think back. There was so much going on in the world and yet I spent my war in the basement room of the BBC.

“Together, we were a network of women, carrying out work which was absolutely essential to the war effort.

“And really, it wasn’t until after the war did we realise just how vital a role we played.”