A small chrome plaque on a park bench in west London marks the HQ of the generals who planned WW2’s most audacious assault. The wrought iron gates are open most days to allow residents stroll through or take a breather under its gigantic plane trees. The air doesn’t feel threatening or impregnable, just filled with the tweets and joyful songs of birds and the distant hum of traffic.
The grounds of St Paul’s Gardens was where King George VI, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Generals Montgomery and Eisenhower and 145 military top brass and war planners assembled in the lecture theatre of St Paul’s School in Hammersmith on 15 May 1944. It was here they finalised the blueprint to storm Normandy, the do-or-die invasion that led to the climax of World War Two and the liberation of Europe.
It led Eisenhower to remark that he’d attended “no other conference so packed with rank as this one”. Mystery still surrounds the reason British general Montgomery chose his alma mater as the Supreme Allied HQ for 21st Army Group where the war effort’s most decisive assault was planned.
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Constructed in 1888 by celebrated architect Alfred Waterhouse, the neo-gothic red brick building had been evacuated with pupils moved to Crowthorne. Montgomery set up his base in the High Master’s quarters, the only surviving part of the sprawling complex. The building had 700 windows shattered by German bombing.
The D-Day invasion was one of the most complex military operations ever undertaken, with 160,000 troops crossing the English Channel in a day, supported by hundreds of warships and planes. A plaque funded by the Old Pauline Trust was unveiled to mark the 76th anniversary of ‘Operation Overlord’ on Saturday 8 June 2020 in the gardens of the former school which later relocated to Barnes in 1968.