THURSDAY marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most courageous and defining conflicts of the Second World War.

In association with Old Gala Club, we have paid tribute to the bravery of the local involvement in the D-Day Normandy Landings by publishing the diary exerts of Major James Gray of Galashiels.

Major Gray was just one of hundreds of Borders who took part in the Normandy Landings.

All three battalions of the King's Own Scottish Borderers were secretly camped in woodlands around the South East preparing for the invasion.

One battalion was somewhat sidetracked.

The 6th battalion, featuring some of the best players from Borders rugby clubs, had progressed to the final of the Northern Command Rugby Championship in the early part of 1944.

And during a May afternoon in Brighton they defeated the Welsh Guards by 11 points to nil

Within a few weeks, though, 10 members of the team became battle casualties on the shores of Normandy - with five being killed in action.

Captain Jock Dun, son of John M and Mary Grant Ker Dun, and husband of Lucille Margery Dun of Galashiels; Sergeant Butler, son of Harriet Butler and husband of Agnes Butler of Hawick; Sergeant William Hardie Gladstone son of James P. and Agnes Gladstone, and husband of Agnes C. Gladstone of Galashiels; Pte Harry Carruthers son of Henry and Mary Carruthers of Galashiels; and Pte M H Crosier Hawick were all killed during the D-Day landings.

The Normandy Invasion started at 6.30am on June 6, 1944.

James Gray, along with Jimmy Mills and George Coltman, who were work colleagues at John McQueen & Son Ltd, volunteered in 1939, as did many others from across the Borders.

Initially serving in the 6th Battalion, after being selected for Officer Training, Gray was posted to the 1st Battalion.

The following are notes from the personal records of the late Major James Gray M.C. Galashiels – who was a Captain and 2i/c of A Company, 1st Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers, in the second assault wave on the morning of June 6.

By June 1, 44, the Battalion had moved into the marshalling area Camp A7. By this time all ranks of the Battalion had been briefed on maps with bogus name and map references - but everyone was fully in the ‘picture’ as to the plan for the invasion of the continent (Operation Overlord). The time in A7 was spent testing weapons and ‘teeing’ up all the last details for the ‘big day’.

In the early morning of June 4, the Battalion embussed in TCVs and moved to the final Assembly area at Victoria Barracks, Plymouth. At 10am we were informed that owing to bad weather the operation had been postponed 24 hours.

On June 5 we again moved to Victoria Barracks and at 0900 hours started embarking on LSIs (Landing Ships Infantry), although there was a fairly heavy sea running. The Battalion was on board by 10.15. We sat at anchor until 17.30 when we set sail for the big adventure for which most of us had been waiting four years. It was an amazing sight, all around as far as the eye could see, there were ships of all shapes and sizes bobbing up and down on the water with their ensigns flying bravely in the summer breeze. As we passed the flag ship, with our Divisional Commander, Major-General Rennie and Admiral Vian on board, all ranks turned out on deck and saluted while the pipers played our Regimental march “Blue Bonnets o’er the Border”.

The sea journey was one of the worst we had experienced, there was a heavy swell running and most of the Battalion felt very ill. After midnight maps were issued and from these, we saw we were scheduled to ‘touch down’ at Lion-Sur-Mer about three miles west of Ouistreham.

About 09.00 on June 6 we could see faintly the coast of Normandy on the horizon, all around us were battleships, cruisers and destroyers firing at the enemy, while overhead there was a continual stream of bombers and fighters. As we drew nearer the shore, we could see LCAs, DUKWs, etc ferrying stores from larger ships to shore.

At 10.45 we were ordered to ‘stand by’ to disembark. Each man carried his normal equipment and personal weapon plus to extra bandoliers of ammunition, two 24-hour ration packs and an airborne bicycle. We had expected a wet landing but when we touched down, dead on time at 11.30, we stepped off the LCI on to the shore. The Navy had certainly put up a terrific show and now it was up to us.

It took only a few minutes for the Battalion to disembark and then we moved off to our Assembly area north of Hermanville-Sur-Mer (Sword Beach), this move was carried out without incident except for a few heavy shells from the coastal guns at Le Havre.

At 17.30 the Battalion were ordered to move to St Aubin d’Arquenay and ordered to ‘dig in’. At 21.00 we witnessed what must be one of the most spectacular sights of the war - the landing of the Reserve Brigade of the 6th Airborne Division. It was certainly heartening for us, as up to then we had the feeling that we were all alone on the continent. Several prisoners were brought in during the night.

Early on June 7 we prepared to attack the village of Gazelle. We moved on bicycles through Periers-Sur-le-Dan preparatory to the attack. At midday patrols reported Gazelle clear of the enemy and led by ‘C’ Company (Major H.S. Gillies) the Battalion moved through Gazelle to the woods north of Le Mesnil.

We stayed until the morning of the 9th when we were relieved by the S Lancs while the Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR) attacked Cambes Wood. At 18.00 the Battalion was ordered to pass through the RUR who had reached their objectives but were pinned down by heavy machine Gun, and Mortar Fire. The Battalion attacked after passing through the RUR and were met by machine gun fire and heavy mortar fire, but all Coys successfully reached their objectives. The Battalion suffered several casualties mainly from mortar fire.

From June 10 to 19 the Battalion remained in Cambes Wood, where we were continually shelled and mortared and suffered fairly heavy casualties.

Enemy mortar and artillery was very active – Battalion HQ receiving most attention. ‘A’ Coy HQ unfortunately came in for a very heavy ‘stonk’ and lost five killed and seven wounded. The end of the month saw the Battalion back in Cambes Wood once more, when we took over the right half of the line from the 2nd Lincs.

During the month of June the Battalion sustained the following casualties; two officers and 30 other ranks killed, eight officers and 104 other ranks wounded, and four other ranks missing.

The Battalion remained in Cambes Wood till July 6. We continued to probe the enemy defences at night by patrolling. Sgt Grant carried out a very successful 24 hour patrol in the area of Galmanche. A lot of very valuable information was gained from this patrol. On the evening of July 6, Lt Robertson ‘B’ Company carried out a very successful patrol and succeeded in bringing back identification of 12 SS Div – this information had been urgently required by higher command in view of the forthcoming attack.

The Battalion were relieved by a Battalion of South Staffs and moved by march route to the area of Benouville in preparation for the attack on Caen. On the evening of July 7 the Battalion took over the 2nd King's Shropshire Light Infantry in the area of Le Homme. A large formation of Allied bombers raided Caen in the early evening.

On July 8 the Battalion again moved forward, this time to the area of Lebissey. There was some enemy mortar and artillery fire, but few casualties were suffered.

On July 9 in conjunction with the RUR and Canadians, the Battalion attacked Caen. The Battalion was ordered to attack from the West with the RUR on our right. The Battalion moved to the Forming Up Point (FUP) on the outskirts of Caen. We were continually shelled from the Eastern side of the River Orne. It was a very unpleasant approach march to the FUP as the ground was completely open and overlooked from the high ground on the far side of the river. Led by ‘C’ and ‘D’ Coys the Battalion advanced into Caen and proceeded to winkle out the enemy. This proved a very slow job, the town had been heavily bombed and the roads crated or blocked by rubble, giving ideal cover from snipers and Spandau posts. By early evening all companies had reached their objectives, patrols established on the canal, and contact established with the RUR. The civilians gave everyone a terrific welcome and produced wine, fruit and bouquets of flowers.

On July 10 the Battalion continued to ‘mop up’ the town. There was slight enemy shelling during the day.

On the morning of July 11, the Battalion were relieved by Canadians and moved to a rest area at Plumeto where the time was spent cleaning up, kit inspections and parades. Football games were organised and there was a generous allotment for film shows, swimming, etc. The Pipe Band played Retreat for the first time since landing, on the evening of the 12th. Officers and Other Rank reinforcements joined the Battalion and on the 15th we moved off at full strength to the area of Ranville, east of the Orne river, in preparation for operation ‘Goodwood’, our objective in this operation was the important road centre of Troarn.

On the morning of July 18, the Battalion moved off via Herouvillette, Touffreville to Sannerville. This was the worst approach march the Battalion had ever experienced. It was a hot summer’s day and having to follow the same route as an armoured Div and we were completely overlooked by the enemy. Enemy shells and mortaring was heavy and we experienced for the first time the enemy’s multi-barrelled mortar (Nebelwerfer) – several casualties were suffered by the Battalion, including the CO, Lt. Col G.D. Renny. He was wounded in the face and arm but refused to be evacuated.

On passing through the RUR at Sannerville ‘D’ and ‘B’ Coys pushed forward and encountered enemy machine guns. The enemy shelling continued throughout the whole advance. After ‘B’ Coy had successfully put in an attack, the Battalion occupied an orchard about 800 yards west of Troarn where consolidation was carried out. During the night enemy shelling continued and enemy patrols encountered. On the 19th, the Battalion attack towards Troarn was continued, ‘C’ Coy left – ‘A’ Coy right. Both Coys advanced, but were met with heavy machine gun fire, and although supported by tanks, were forced to withdraw with heavy casualties.

The Battalion took up its former positions and spent a most unpleasant day of enemy mortar and shell fire.

The C.O. was ordered to be evacuated by the Brigadier and Major T.G. Coverdale took over command of the Battalion. Casualties in the Battalion in this action were 12 officers and 140 other Ranks. To make things more unpleasant we had 48 hours solid rain. Enemy shelling and mortaring continued but our own guns had moved up and they did some very good counter battery shoots.

On July 23, two enemy Stretcher Bearers (SBs) approached ‘B’ Coy position and asked that they and ourselves should bury our dead who were lying in ‘No man’s land’. A party of SBs under our Padre, Capt Wilson, went out and did this job. As in Cambes Wood some very good patrolling was done, and several prisoners were taken mostly from 364 Fusilier Battalion and 192 Panzer Grenadiers.

On July 26, Lt. Col. J.F.M. MacDonald took over command of the Battalion. A strong enemy patrol attempted to penetrate ‘B’ Coy position but were beaten off by small arms and two-inch mortar fire. Several casualties were inflicted on the enemy in this short and sharp engagement.

The Battalion remained in this area till July 31 when they were relieved to go back into Army Reserve.

The total casualties for the month of July were five Officers and 43 other ranks killed, 15 officers and 152 other ranks wounded and one other rank missing.

The Old Gala Club records show that the KOSB story of World War II did not end there, continuing from Caen to the far pagodas of Burma.

In the words of an old soldier “we didnae dae sae badly”.