Arthur Bradford: The unhappiest man on the beach

An account of the late Invermere resident who was part of the D-Day assault

By Elinor Florence

Special to the Pioneer

June 6, 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the greatest invasion of all time, D-Day. I interviewed air force veteran Arthur Bradford at his Invermere home before he died in 1999. Arthur had twinkling eyes, dry wit and the typical British habit of understatement. His experience on D-Day must have been horrendous, but he made it sound like a comical adventure!

Arthur’s Early Life

Arthur Thomas Bradford was born on February 12, 1913 in southern Wales. After finishing high school, he trained as a teacher in Cardiff and then moved to England. There he married an English girl named Joyce Jefferys (nicknamed Trudy) and the young couple purchased a house in Southampton, on the south coast.

Arthur Was One of “The Few”

When war broke out in September 1939, Arthur was called up and sent to Canada to train as a fighter pilot, under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, at Penhold, Alberta. Upon his return he was stationed at RAF Biggin Hill, a fighter command air base.

Arthur was one of “The Few” who flew a Spitfire during the Battle of Britain, intercepting the Luftwaffe bombers on their way to bomb London. The expression is taken from Churchill’s famous speech about the Royal Air Force: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Typically, Arthur made light of his achievement. “I wasn’t a very good pilot – that’s why I’m here today. It was the good pilots who got killed.” Nevertheless, he shot down three Stukas, the dreaded German two-man dive bombers.

For the next couple of years, Arthur was stationed at air bases all over England. He and his wife had a baby son named Michael. They decided Southampton wasn’t safe from German bombers, so Trudy and the baby went to live with the elder Bradfords in Wales.

Arthur Shot Down on D-Day

After almost five years of war, the Allies finally felt ready to wrest control of the European continent back from the Nazis.

As dawn broke on June 6, 1944, Arthur was flying a last-minute reconnaissance mission over LeHavre, France. His Spitfire was painted with black and white “invasion stripes,” so the Allies wouldn’t accidentally fire on their own aircraft.

He flew over the English Channel, past masses of troop-carrying gliders being towed by bombers. From his cockpit, he could see an armada of around seven thousand ships approaching the French coast.

He must have felt pretty safe up there, far away from the battle shaping up below.

And then his Spitfire was shot down by anti-aircraft fire!

Fortunately, he had time to bail out into the Channel wearing his bright yellow life jacket. Soon afterwards, a landing craft full of soldiers pulled him out of the water.

Then Arthur realized, to his dismay, that he was heading towards the heavily-defended beach! “I was the unhappiest man on that boat,” he told me.

Already soaking wet and freezing, Arthur was ordered off the boat along with everyone else. He had no unit, no commanding officer, and no weapon — except for a service

revolver which all the pilots wore, in a clip stuck shut by salt water.

Arthur made no claims to bravery. “I headed for a concrete wall and hid behind it for three days.”

The beach was a scene of pandemonium. By sunset, an incredible 175,000 British, American, Canadian and Free French troops had landed on the Normandy coast.

Arthur remained huddled under his rock. On the third day, he was finally picked up by another landing craft, evacuating some of the wounded men off the beach.

Half-way across the English Channel, the landing craft was torpedoed and sunk! Once again, poor Arthur found himself in the drink.

For the second time in three days, he was pulled from the water by another vessel heading back to England, and he safely reached Southampton.

He went straight to an officer and requested compassionate leave for being torpedoed.

“Torpedoed! Spitfire pilots don’t get torpedoed!” was the officer’s response.

After a heated discussion, Arthur boarded a train for Wales, arriving in the middle of the night in a terrible rainstorm. He walked a mile to his house in the drenching rain, and knocked on the door, but nobody answered. He threw pebbles against the window until his wife Trudy opened the door.

“But you’re dead!” she cried out.

“I’m not dead, but I’m wet! Let me in!”

It wasn’t until he got inside that she burst into tears. She had already received a telegram saying that he was missing in action.

After a short leave, Arthur returned to his squadron and was stationed in France, Belgium, and then Germany, until the long European war ended on May 8, 1945. As Arthur recalled: “Within an hour there was nothing left to drink in the mess!”

After the War

Arthur returned to his teaching career. His only son Michael grew up and became a teacher like his father. Michael and his wife Rosemary, also a teacher, emigrated to Canada and settled in Invermere in 1970. Now retired, Michael finished his career as principal at Eileen Madson Primary School.

Arthur and his wife followed them to Invermere in 1985, where they enjoyed spending time with Mike and Rosemary, and their three granddaughters – Fiona, Claire and Amy. Fiona still lives in Invermere with her own family. After his wife died in 1994, Arthur Bradford lived alone in his cottage overlooking Kinsmen Beach until he passed away in 1999.

Every year on June 6th – the anniversary of D-Day – I remember Arthur Bradford. I think he is observing the celebrations from high above, zooming around in his Spitfire!

Arthur Bradford’s story and 26 other wartime interviews are included in a non-fiction book by local author Elinor Florence called My Favourite Veterans: True Stories From World War Two’s Hometown Heroes. Signed copies are available at Lambert-Kipp Pharmacy in Invermere, or by calling Elinor at 250-342-0444.

This story was edited down from Ms. Florence’s original post about Mr. Bradford. To read the full and fascinating tale, click here.

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