8 December 1915|
England, United Kingdom
|Died||6 June 1944
Near Ranville, France
|Buried at||Ranville Churchyard |
|Years of service||1942–1944 †|
|Unit||Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry|
|Awards||Mentioned in dispatches|
Lieutenant Herbert Denham Brotheridge was a British Army officer who served with the 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (the 52nd) during the Second World War. He is often considered to be the first Allied soldier to be killed in action on D-Day, 6 June 1944. He was killed during Operation Tonga: the British airborne landings which secured the left flank of the invasion area before the main assault on the Normandy beaches began.
Den Brotheridge was born in Smethwick, Staffordshire, the son of Herbert Charles and Lilian Brotheridge. He was educated at Smethwick Technical College and played football for the Aston Villa Colts and cricket for Mitchells and Butlers, Smethwick. He became an inspector of weights and measures with Aylesbury County Council. He married Margaret Plant on 30 August 1940 who was eight months pregnant when he left for Normandy. His daughter Margaret Brotheridge was born two weeks after he was killed.
Brotheridge was commissioned into the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in July 1942. Brotheridge first met Major John Howard at Slade Barracks, Oxford and Howard was to recommend him, whilst he was a corporal, to join the OCTU. Later at a conference in Bournemouth he advised Howard, who was seeking to recruit him as a platoon commander, that he would join D Company, following completion of his OCTU training. They both had a similar social background and a keen interest in sports. It was expected that Brotheridge would pursue a career as a professional footballer following the war. They had both served in the ranks and Howard considered him to be a friend. Brotheridge did not initially enjoy an easy relationship with his fellow platoon leaders who all came from a different social background to himself. He was popular with the members of his platoon.
Brotheridge was chosen to command 25 Platoon (also known as first platoon) in Major John Howard's 'D' Company, 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6th Airborne Division. The original plan was for Lieutenant David Wood to lead the first platoon across the Caen canal bridge, however shortly before D-Day Howard changed the order of landing and Brotheridge was selected to lead the first platoon across the bridge at Benouville.
The coup de main glider-borne platoons left RAF Tarrant Rushton, Dorset, at 22.40hrs on 5 June 1944 on a moonlit night; crossing the English coast over Worthing, Sussex. Brotheridge's platoon's glider piloted by Staff Sergeant Jim Wallwork landed in Normandy at 00.16hrs on 6 June; landing less than 50 feet from the water tower of the Benouville Bridge and Brotheridge led the first charge across the bridge, now known as Pegasus Bridge.
He managed to silence the left German MP-post at the western bank of the Caen Canal; he and his platoon then came under attack by machine gun fire from the direction of the Gondree Cafe on the far side of the canal. Brotheridge was hit in the back of the neck by the machine gun fire and died of wounds without regaining consciousness in the early hours of 6 June, aged 28, in a Casualty Collection Post situated in a trench between the Caen Canal and Orne bridges, where Captain John Vaughan RAMC took care of him. Lt. Herbert Denham Brotheridge is buried in the War Cemetery in Ranville Churchyard, near Caen, in France. Ranville was the first village in France to be liberated.
He received a mention in despatches for this action. He had been granted an immediate award of the Military Cross by Field Marshal Montgomery the C-in-C of 21st Army Group on 16 June 1944, however regulations for the award of the MC at that time prevented confirmation of the award by King George VI as the citation had not been initiated until after Brotheridge's death.
Another member of the coup de main platoon was killed during the operation. Lance-Corporal Fred Greenhalgh of No 14 platoon, 2nd Ox and Bucks, was knocked unconscious following the crash landing and thrown out of his glider and died by drowning.
Major John Howard's D Company 2nd Ox and Bucks (the 52nd) was the first Allied unit to land in Normandy on D-Day, 6 June 1944 and Brotheridge was the first soldier from the glider-borne 2nd Ox and Bucks coup de main operation to be killed in action. Brotheridge was the first man to be wounded in action during the Normandy landings and is widely recognised as being the first Allied soldier to be killed in action on D-Day, 6 June 1944.
A memorial plaque to commemorate the events of Den Brotheridge's death was unveiled at Smethwick Council House on 2 April 1995 by his daughter, Margaret Brotheridge.