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Shropshire soldier who led invasion troops

By Toby Neal | Nostalgia | Published:

One of the commanders in the D-Day assault was Shropshire-born Brigadier Sir Alexander Stanier, who was asked by Montgomery to command the right hand brigade of the 50th Northumbrian Division.

"My first job was to land my men on the beach near the village of Asnelles. I had the BBC reporter, the late Howard Marshall, in the boat at my side when we landed," Sir Alexander – who had the nickname of Sammy in military circles – was to recall in old age.

"The tide was high, so we couldn't see the mines the Germans had laid for us and we hit one. It tore the bottom off my boat and we both had to wade ashore.

"He later dashed back to England on another boat and his remarkable report was broadcast on the BBC's 6pm news that day. I still have a copy of that.

"We were able to liberate Asnelles, which was heavily defended by a sea wall and nests of guns which fired down the beaches.''

They fought westwards to link with the American landings.

"I continued west in my Jeep and met up with the first of the Americans. It was my great honour to shake his hand, which meant the beachhead had been established.

"I was the first man to literally shake hands with the Americans, who had a very bad landing because of the storms about 15 miles to the west of the British.

"I was awarded the American Silver Star as a result of that."

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Sir Alexander, who had been brought up at Peplow Hall, near Hodnet, was the son of the former Newport and later Ludlow MP Sir Beville Stanier.

By the time of the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994 he was, at the age of 95, one of the oldest surviving veterans of the invasion.

He was increasingly frail, and the sight in his one remaining eye – he had lost an eye in a training accident – was failing.

He was still determined to be there, but wondered whether he would have the strength to make the journey.

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Then he had a brilliant idea. Why not go by helicopter? And so it was that Sammy Stanier and his housekeeper were flown to the 1994 commemorations by Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Moss, a former commanding officer of the Army Air Corps and before that an officer in Sammy’s old regiment, the Welsh Guards.

As a token of their everlasting gratitude, the people of Asnelles presented him with a commemorative stone carved in the shape of the Cross of Lorraine, which caused a bit of a headache in getting it back home in the helicopter, but all went well.

Sir Alex was never to return to Normandy, as he died in January 1995, just two days after accepting a new honour, the Freedom of Arromanches.

His son Billy went to Arromanches that June to accept the award on his late father’s behalf.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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