On 6 June 1944 around 150,000 allied troops crossed the English channel and invaded Nazi-occupied France as part of ‘Operation Overlord’ (the code name for D-Day). Major Redmond Cunningham (1916-1999) was a second lieutenant in the 79th Assault Squadron of the Royal Engineers. He landed at 07.10 hrs on Sword beach, having never seen action until that morning but with a landing craft and six tanks under his command. What he and his fellow soldiers encountered has been vividly depicted in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. The following day, 7 June 1944, the squadron captured a strategically-important canal lock at Ouistreham, along with a large number of enemy prisoners, a significant victory for the invading forces. Cunningham became one of the most highly-decorated Irish officers serving in the British army during WWII and was the only Irishman to receive the Military Cross on D-Day.
The Redmond Cunningham papers housed in M&ARL (TCD MS 10718) detail the arrangements for D-Day as well as the dramatic events themselves. They contain army training manuals, maps (printed on the back of British ordnance survey maps due to lack of paper), and an invitation to a victory dance to be held ‘somewhere in Holland’. The highlight is TCD MS 10718/1/5, dispatches written by forty-one service personnel describing, from each man’s point of view, what had taken place on D-Day and the days following.
The training and equipment manuals included in the collection (TCD MS 10718/2) give an insight into the preparatory work of the 79th Armoured Division, which was unique amongst the allied armies. Since 1943, the division, led by Major General Percy Hobart, was charged with developing specialist tanks and tactics tailored for beach landings. This resulted in ingenious ‘A-Team’ style modifications involving chain flails for detonating mines, giant bobbins with carpets to help the tanks climb the beach and, for large anti-tank trenches, portable metal bridges. These tanks were initially ridiculed, especially by the American units who christened them ‘Hobart’s funnies’. However they were a success and led to fewer casualties on the beaches where they were deployed. Their specialist armour was in constant demand for the rest of the war.
The papers were donated in 1994 by Redmond Cunningham himself on the suggestion of his son, the writer Peter Cunningham, who used some of the material as inspiration for his book Consequences of the Heart.
The papers have recently been catalogued into the M&ARL online catalogue (MARLOC) and will be available for research access subsequent to conservation.