Writing in History: The D-Day Dodgers

How often have you heard the phrase, “timing is everything” ? Timing can mean the difference between success and failure, between ‘famous’ and ‘forgotten.’ Take, for instance, the case of the D-Day Dodgers.

Seventy-two years ago, on June 4, 1944, a military campaign that had dragged on for over a year and a half reached a historic milestone. The Allied forces liberated their first Axis capitol: Rome.

Months of slogging up mountains while under fire, of crossing river after bridgeless river, of mud, cold, and disappointment, had finally borne fruit.

This momentous event held the headlines for one day.

Timing, after all, is everything. On June 6th the Allies began their long-awaited landings on the beaches of Normandy.

Of course, the D-Day invasions were extremely important. Years had gone into their planning and preparation. It was thrilling to have a foothold in France for the first time after being ousted in ’39. However, the Italian campaign, considered controversial from the start, was now definitely relegated to a secondary position.

Soldiers in Italy who’d spent years and lost friends fighting through North Africa, Sicily, and up the foot of Italy, saw commanders, troops, and material sent away to support the efforts in France. Loved ones sent them letters telling them what a relief it was that they were ‘safe’ in Italy.

Perhaps Lady Astor, member of the British Parliament, wins the prize for the worst insult to the Italian effort. She named the troops the “D-Day Dodgers”- shirkers of the fighting in France.*

The response of the troops was so memorable that I’ve been caught singing it around the house. (This version- the clean one 😉

When I began my study of the theaters of World War 2 to pick a specific setting for my novel, I stumbled across this story and this song, and I stayed.

A few of the places of interest mentioned in the song:

“Salerno”- The first major assault on the European mainland had 4,870 Americans killed, wounded or missing. (This does not include casualties from the British 10th Corps.)

“Cassino”- The ‘Gustav Line’ of German defenses passed through the mountains by the town of Cassino. It took four Allied assaults over many months to break the line, the last being a huge effort of camouflage, false trails, and infantry.

“Anzio”- This beachhead was established north of Monte Cassino. The attack stagnated, and the Allies were trapped on the beachhead for months. The American hospital area was hit so often that it was nicknamed “Hell’s Half-Acre” and stories circulate of soldiers pretending they weren’t wounded to avoid being sent there for care. The Allied forces at Anzio suffered 29,200 combat casualties, (killed, wounded, prisoners or missing,) and 37,000 non-combat casualties.

Statistics from the http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/salerno/sal-fm.htm and http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/anzio/72-19.htm

* Some sources indicate that Lady Astor’s statement was due to a misunderstanding: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/10841035/Monte-Cassino-veterans-anger-at-D-Day-dodger-label.html

Thanks and God’s blessings to all who serve and have served.

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