D-Day 80th Anniversary – Iris Bower & Martha Gellhorn

Posted: 6th June 2024

Burgess Hill Girls marks the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings by shining a light on the remarkable contribution made by two women to this unparalleled historic event. The first of these women – Iris Bower – has a very special connection to current sixth former, Lucia: she is her great-grandmother.

‘Good God!’

This was the incredulous reaction from the beachhead master when Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) Nurse Iris Bower arrived on Juno Beach early on 11th June 1944. With fellow nurse, Mollie Giles, Iris travelled on a tank landing craft, becoming one of the first women to set foot on the D Day beaches. Iris Bower nursed on the front-line of the war from D-Day onwards including entering Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to help nurse the survivors. Reflecting on her experience, Iris said, ‘I knew I wanted to make some big contribution myself. I had a strong feeling that what we were taking part in was grand and noble’. Iris was later awarded an MBE for her work.

Head of History, Theresa Jackson, shared another lesser-known story about the D-Day landings, that of a young American journalist named Martha Gellhorn. During World War Two, Martha reported on the war, sending dispatches back to the US for publication. In June 1944, Gellhorn applied to the British and US governments for press accreditation to report on the Normandy landings; her application, like those of all female journalists, was denied. Lacking official press credentials, she posed as a nurse and was allowed onto a hospital ship – where she promptly locked herself in a bathroom. Upon landing she saw the many wounded and became a stretcher-bearer. Later she recalled, ‘I followed the war wherever I could reach it.’ She was the only woman to land in Normandy (on Omaha Beach) on D-Day, 6 June 1944.

The D-Day landings gave the Allies a foothold in Normandy from where they would eventually move on to liberate the rest of Nazi-occupied France and western Europe. As we celebrate the courage and heroism of all those involved 80 years ago today, marking this significant milestone is particularly poignant this year. Coinciding with preparations for the general election and with Pride Month, we are reminded of the freedom and democracy for which the Allies fought.

Sixth former Amelie, herself an RAF Air Cadet with the Haywards Heath squadron, has organised a special D-Day celebration assembly. Burgess Hill Girls will be visited by Dame Vera Lynn’s secretary, Susan Fleet MBE, who will sing ‘We’ll Meet Again’. All these remarkable women and their contribution to this historic event remind us of the spark, spirit and strength, values central to us here in the Burgess Hill Girls Community.

Martha Gellhorn 1908 1988
Martha Gellhorn 1908 – 1988
Iris {Fluffy) Bower, MBE, 1915 – 2005
Iris {Fluffy) Bower, MBE, 1915 – 2005