DAVID ARNOLD - Jon’s jottings take us from D-Day to Guy Fawkes by way of Operation Husky

Tobyn Horton. Pic:Wig Worland/Nocturne Series
Tobyn Horton. Pic:Wig Worland/Nocturne Series

Jon Gunson contacted me in respect of the D-Day Dodgers song featured in last week’s County Yarns.

He says the words of the song are credited to one Lance Sergeant Harry Pynn who wrote them in November 1944 when he was serving with a tank rescue unit just south of Bologna. Jon added: “The poet, songwriter and former soldier Hamish Henderson has a version of it that can be can be found on Youtube, as can his own song, ‘51st (Highland) Division’s Farewell to Sicily’, which captures the mood of that strange interval between the end of one campaign, and the start of the next.“

Veterans in Italy also noted sardonically that they had participated in several of their own D-Day operations before the landings in Normandy on 6th June 1944 became popularly known as “D-Day”. The term was originally used to refer to the start of any major military operation (with H-Hour denoting the actual time it commenced), but the media turned it into an expression that became synonymous with the Normandy landings only. The fighting in Italy had been raging for some 11 months before the Normandy D-Day, and many of the men had served in North Africa long before that.

I have a book simply called D Day and it doesn’t have a hyphen in the title. It is the work of US war correspondent John Gunther. It was published in the first half of 1944 and is a brilliant account of the war in the Mediterranean in 1942-43. The D Day of the title refers to the Allied invasion of Sicily.

Jon Gunson has a link to the latter operation: “The godfather of my partner, Pauline Quinton, was Major Frederick William Fineron who served in the 1st Border Regiment. He took part in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 and later went into Sicily by glider during Operation Husky, the start of the Allied invasion of Italy. Though the operation was ultimately successful, the airborne forces suffered terrible losses with many of the gliders crashing into the sea. Major Fineron was one of the very few who made it to shore, but unfortunately was shot in a friendly fire incident on the very first night. This was 16th July 1943. He was aged 34 when he died and he is buried in Syracuse War Cemetery. Pauline and Freddie’s son Michael (born after his father’s death) have visited Syracuse.”

Jon then added a fascinating fact that I am sure will interest Sussex followers of Bonfire: “Incidentally, Major Fineron went to the only English school where out of tradition they never put a Guy on a bonfire on 5th November. This is because Guido Fawkes and at least three of his fellow Gunpowder plotters were old boys of St Peter’s in York. Former pupils are known as ‘Peterites’ and the school is the third oldest in Britain (and fourth oldest in the world) having been founded by St Paulinus in 627AD. It is set along the banks of Yorkshire’s River Ouse.”


Jon Gunson sent in this striking 1944 cartoon that sums up the Eighth Army’s mood in Italy at the time of the Allied invasion of Normandy in June of that year. The caption reads: “When they call us D-Day dodgers...which particular D-Day do they mean, old man?” Readers may recall that Lewes resident Jon contributed the “Friday Knights” series in the Sussex Express earlier this year. The series featured the devices (emblems) of many of the senior commanders who took part in the Battle of Lewes in 1264.