Just before daybreak on 6th June 1944, men of the US 101st Airborne Division parachuted into the French countryside, about five miles inland from a three-mile-long beach codenamed Utah. The beach was one of six that had been selected as sites for the mass seaborne landings of Allied troops. Operation Neptune, involving the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, was the initial phase of Operation Overlord – the Second World War Allied invasion of France.
The 101st Airborne Division was tasked with clearing the way for the seaborne landing of the men of the US 4th Infantry Division, who would fight their way inland. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had been appointed as Commander of the Supreme Allied Expeditionary Force, knew that If Operation Overlord was to succeed it was necessary for the Allies to secure a French seaport, enabling huge amounts of logistical supplies to be safely landed for troops fighting their way through Western Europe.
Cherbourg, on the Cotentin Peninsula, was the only suitable deep-water port, and although the airborne landing went to plan, it was some time before Cherbourg was eventually captured on 21st June 1944.
The 101st Airborne Division had been based in England prior to the 6th June, training hard for what would be their first combat mission. There was time for some relaxation, however, and the young soldiers, in a foreign country for the first time in their lives, looked to London for entertainment.
One of those men was 21-year-old Norwood Thomas, and a chance meeting with an English girl as he was walking along the banks of the River Thames, just outside London, resulted in a wartime love affair that was doomed to end in disappointment for them both. The girl was 16-year-old Joyce Durrant, and in the short time, they spent together before Thomas had to leave for France the pair fell deeply in love.
The war intervened, and the couple were parted. Both of them subsequently married other people, and lead separate lives – Joyce, now 88, lives in Australia and 93-year-old Norwood is in South-East Virginia. Joyce was divorced years ago, and Norwood’s wife has died.
The two wartime lovers never forgot each other, and a chance conversation between Joyce and her son enabled him to trace Norwood, and the pair spoke to each other via a Skype conversation. The story went viral, and people started sending money. New Zealand Airlines has offered to pay for Norwood to travel to Australia with his son, and on Valentine’s day 2016 the couple will be reunited, over 70 years after they first met.