When Richard Todd played the part of Major John Howard in the 1962 epic The Longest Day, he was reliving his own wartime experiences as one of the first British officers to parachute into Normandy on D-Day to capture Pegasus Bridge.
Among the many familiar figures of TV and cinema who fought for their country are Sir Dirk Bogarde, who arrived at a secret location in Normandy just after D-Day to carry out vital aerial photographic interpretation exercises with the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Audie Murphy, who lied about his age to enlist after the attack on Pearl Harbor and went on to become America’s most decorated soldier of the war.
We have all admired the stars for the pleasure they have brought to our lives, but the true stories of these people we know so well are far more evocative than any part they played on the silver screen.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Audie Murphy, a poor boy from a farming community in Texas, was still grieving the death of his mother. He secretly added a year to his age so he could enlist in the US Army. From then on, Murphy fought in some of the bloodiest battles in Europe including Anzio, the Colmar Pocket in France, and at Nuremberg. It was for his actions during the fighting at the Colmar Pocket, when he single-handedly held off an enemy attack, that Murphy was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest and most prestigious military decoration. Tormented by PTSD, coupled with unhappy memories of his childhood growing up in the Great Depression, Murphy found himself hailed as the all-American hero – he was, after all, one of the most decorated US combat soldiers of the war. But he also went on to become a famous star of the big screen. So much so, in fact, that in this book the author explores just what he went through in battle to result in him starring as himself in the classic war film To Hell and Back? When the war broke out between Britain and Germany on 3 September 1939, the British stars Laurence Olivier and his future wife Vivien Leigh were on board a yacht in California with celebrity friends including Douglas Fairbanks Jr. The debonair Sandhurst trained British Army officer David Niven and his actor pal Bob Coote were on their way to join the party. Olivier returned to Britain, determined to serve his country. But at 33, he was deemed as too old for the RAF. Olivier duly joined his actor pal Ralph Richardson in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. Years later he starred as his hero, Lord Dowding, in the legendary film _Battle of Britain_. Dirk Bogarde, meanwhile, was a young British Army intelligence officer seconded to the pioneering RAF Medmenham where he studied aerial photographs and pinpointed enemy targets for RAF Bomber Command. Lieutenant van den Bogaerde was also posted to war torn France just after D-Day to work with a squadron of Canadian pilots. Years later in 1991, Sir Dirk Bogarde was interviewed by the author of this book and revealed details of a horrific atrocity he witnessed in April 1945 which changed his attitude to life forever. In this book the author aims to honour these stars’ real-life stories of the true grit behind the glamour.