Remembering D-Day and Alastair Frew
The 6th of June 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the landings on the Normandy Beaches. Those landings began Operation Overlord — the Battle of Normandy — the mission to free occupied France. On that day 160,000 allied troops crossed the English Channel — the biggest armada the world had ever seen. The sounds of the bombardment could be heard six miles inland.
But the landings did not end that day — they continued for 25 days. Among those later arriving troops were the Seaforth Highlanders — leaping out of vessels into the cold waves coming to shore on Sword Beach. One Highlander would have stood out among them — a towering man, 6’3” from top of pate to sole of boot — Alastair Frew.
In June 1944, my father Sidney Radford, was stationed with the RAF in Masirah, Oman, serving as rear gunner on what was to become his favorite aircraft — the Wellington XIII. Sid and Al would not meet during the war. They wouldn’t meet until the Fifties, when both families lived in Bearsden, a suburb of Glasgow. Their wives, Margery and Mary, taught primary school together. When my mother Margery chatted with Al, she had to crane her neck. As Alastair talked he sometimes absent-mindedly rubbed his hands, the right hand smoothing over the truncated left palm, where the little finger used to be. She was so impressed by his height, to her he was a unit of measurement. I’d ask her to tell me how tall a tree was and she’d say, “About 10 Uncle Alastairs.” Uncle Al was a metric.
The Seaforth Highlanders were part of the 46th (Highland) Brigade, which in turn was part of the 15th Scottish Division. One of General Bernard Montgomery’s prime objectives in Operation Epsom was to encircle the town of Caen. Whomever had control of the high ground outside Caen had control of the land around it. That high ground was known as Hill 112- the notorious Hill 112. The 15th Scottish Division, among them Al Frew, began the offensive at 7.30 am on June 26th 1944. Heavy fighting raged for six week for control of Hill 112, lasting from June to August, involving 63,000 men.
Al was one of the thousands of casualties on battle-torn Hill 112, sustaining numerous gunshot wounds to his limbs. The story goes that he got a message through to Mary that his pinkie had been shot off. Something was lost in translation however, for Mary thought they’d never be able to have children. Following recuperation at Hairmyres Hospital however, they were indeed able to have children.
So John, Alison, and Joy, this is to say thanks for Al, for kind, jovial, impressive, bird-loving……and incredibly brave and heroic Uncle Al — a unit of measurement.
Tags: 15th Scottish Division, 46th (Highland) Brigade, Alastair Frew, Alison Hollis, Battle of Normandy, Bearsden, Caen, D-Day, Glasgow, Hairmyers Hospital, Hill 112, John Frew, Joy Melville, June 26th 1944, Margery Radford, Mary Frew, Operation Epsom, Operation Overlord, Seaforth Highlanders, Sidney Radford