75 years ago, on 6th June 1944, the Allied powers crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, beginning the liberation of Western Europe, in a historic event now commonly referred to as D-Day. Many of those troops who landed on the French coast did so via the massive floating constructs called the Mulberry Harbours. Although many Old Emanuels fought in D-Day, both in the air and on the ground assault, Private Robert Edwin Fielder (OE 1935-41) of the Airborne Division was the only OE to lose his life.

Robert was serving in No. 1 Parachute Platoon 716 Airborne and took part in the first aerial assault on Normandy, aiming to clear the German air-borne defences and capture bridges local to the region. After he jumped from his aeroplane and was close to impacting the ground, his parachute tangled on telephone wires and he was shot by the German troops whilst trapped hanging close to a wall. Robert had only recently passed the eight jumps required in order to qualify for airborne operations.

Robert Fielder, aged 18

Strangely, a French Countess recovered Robert’s body and covered him with a shroud, an act for which she was later awarded the Croix de Guerre, a French military decoration.

At the time, leading up to D-Day, Robert was aware a huge action was in the final stages of planning, but the details remained a secret (Operation Overlord) and he wrote to his sister Margaret on May 30th:

By the way, if and when the second front does start, will you please save the morning papers for me for the first fortnight or so and when you write again please send a couple of Penguin books, not too blood-thirsty. We were inspected last week by the King and Queen and Princess Elizabeth…They looked like what I expected except Princess Elizabeth who was smaller than she seems to be in photographs.

Robert hoped to continue his training as a Chartered Accountant after the war.

Robert Fielder in his paratroopers uniform

As an Emanuel pupil Robert was a talented musician who played the violin and was a member of the Officer Training Corps (OTC) who had been evacuated to the Hampshire town of Petersfield in the early stages of the war. Before being called up at the age of 18, he had already volunteered for home defence firefighting duties whilst still at school. He was 19 years old when he died and his family made a number of visits to his grave in the years which have passed since his death.

Robert Edwin Fielder is also remembered on the Second World War Memorial in the school Chapel. Robert was later buried in Ranville War Cemetery.

Tony Jones (Senior Librarian & Archivist)