George Hicks' report covered by the roar of cannons and shouts of men had become "the greatest record of war." He joined the National D-Day Memorial Museum in Bedford, Virginia.
Du Landing in Normandy, June 6, 1944, almost everyone knows Robert Capa's eleven photos, nicknamed "The Magnificent Eleven", taken at Omaha Beach. Or the 30 seconds filmed by Canadian Sergeant Bill Grant showing the gesture of encouragement of a soldier slapping the shoulder of a comrade who storms Juno Beach.
The voice of the journalist George Hicks, covered by the buzz of the planes, the roar of cannons and the cries of the men of the landing, was less well known; the soundtracks of what the New York World Telegram did not hesitate to call "The greatest record of war" now reside at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia since September 30th.
Live from the bridge of the "U.S.S. Ancon "
At a time when radio was one of the main news channels and where reports were read and recorded in a studio, these thirteen minutes of live recorded by the head of the London office of Blue Network, the ancestor of ABC , one of the major American television channels, constitute a unique testimony of the first hours of the landing.
"Another plane is coming, just above on the port side"
George Hicks, who is aboard theU.S.S. Ancon, the command ship organizing the landing at Omaha Beach, describes what is happening around him: "We are posted, a few miles off the coast of France where the invasion began …". In the din of cannons, he recounts the attack of the allied fleet by German planes: "Another plane is coming up, right up on the port side. The tracer bullets describe an arch above our bow ". The action continues until the moment when a German plane is shot down by the American Air Force, with the noise of the crew exulting.
The recording broadcast on June 7, 1944, on most American radio stations, has made such an impression that it was pressed in the form of a disc and allowed its author to obtain his own radio program. Then, George Hicks and his report sank into oblivion, stifled by the advent of television.
The recording in the cellar
Copies of the report survived here and there, but the original was only rediscovered in 1994 by a man named Bruce Campbell who had just bought a house in Mattituck on Long Island, as reported on Washington Post beginning of October. The house had belonged to Albert Stern, who had been vice-president of Frederick Hart & Co, a New York-based company that manufactured the Recordgraph, the camera on which George Hicks recorded his report.
Amertapes and cellulose acetate strips (…) in a plastic bag
Bruce Campbell says that when he moved in, he found several items in the cellar "Linked to the Second World War, to 1944, to victory over Japan …" among which were sixteen oblong boxes, resembling boxes for film reels. They contained Amertapes, bands of cellulose acetate, owned by George Hicks or Edward R. Murrow, another famous American journalist. Bruce Campbell wrapped it in a plastic bag, thinking he would come back later.
When he finally looked at his treasure again years later, he looked for ways to read these tapes and discovered that a British engineer, Adrian Tuddenham from Bristol, had developed a machine to read the Amertapes. In 2004, Bruce Campbell flew to Bristol, recording under his arm, where he heard for the first time the sound of the past:
"The hairs in my arms bristled, it was incredible. "
Washington, London or Bedford?
Before turning to the National D-Day Memorial Museum in Bedford, Virginia, Bruce Campbell first refused to give the recordings to the Washington Convention Library and the Imperial War Museum in London, and then tried to sell them, without finding a buyer, reports the Washington Post. It's finally during the ceremonies surrounding the 75e anniversary of the landing that he resolved to give to the museum of this city of Virginia, which is the one that has suffered proportionally the largest losses.
Nineteen of the 34 Bedford soldiers who participated in the landing were killed on June 6, 1944, and four more during the rest of the Normandy campaign. Why the US Congress chose to install the D-Day memorial in Bedford; "This is where these recordings should be", says Bruce Campbell. With the memory of those men killed in battle and George Hicks, whose voice darkens as he concludes his report:
"Around us it is dark, there is no light, no shooting. It is midnight ten, in the early hours of June 7, 1944. "