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The women who made D-Day possible: How crucial work under-the-radar helped the Allies stage daring Normandy invasion to liberate Western Europe from Nazi tyranny 100 years ago

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One hundred years ago this week, 156,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy in France on D-Day to Liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny.

It is one of the most well-remembered battles in history, with annual remembrance ceremonies taking part on the famous beaches where thousands of men died.

But some argue the celebration of the role women played in helping the Allies prepare for the invasion has been neglected in comparison.

As D-Day nears its 100th anniversary on June 6, here MailOnline tells the stories of just a few of the women who helped play their part in the world’s biggest amphibious invasion.

Christian Lamb and Patricia Owtram were two of the skilled women who served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, better known as the Wrens, to help prepare the detailed plans.

Here MailOnline tells the stories of just a few of the women who helped play their part in the world's biggest amphibious invasion. Pictured: Christian Lamb aged 25

Here MailOnline tells the stories of just a few of the women who helped play their part in the world’s biggest amphibious invasion. Pictured: Christian Lamb aged 25

Christian Lamb (pictured) was one of the skilled women who served in the Women's Royal Naval Service, better known as the Wrens, to help prepare the detailed plans

Christian Lamb (pictured) was one of the skilled women who served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, better known as the Wrens, to help prepare the detailed plans

Lamb, aged 103, flying in a Miles Magister plane 80 years after she was offered a lift home from a party in one by a Polish officer in WW2

Lamb, aged 103, flying in a Miles Magister plane 80 years after she was offered a lift home from a party in one by a Polish officer in WW2

Pictured: Troops from the 48th Royal Marines at Saint-Aubin-sur-mer on Juno Beach, Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944

Pictured: Troops from the 48th Royal Marines at Saint-Aubin-sur-mer on Juno Beach, Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944

Working alone in a tiny office in London, Lamb tried to make sure British troops were in exactly the right place when they scrambled onto Normandy’s beaches under enemy fire during the D-Day landings.

The young Wrens officer painstakingly created detailed maps to guide the crews of landing craft that ferried the men to shore.

The maps ‘showed railways, roads, churches, castles, every possible feature that could be visible to an incoming invader and from every angle,’ Lamb, now 103, told The Associated Press. 

‘It was intense and exciting work, and obviously detail was vital. It was crucial that the maps were 100% accurate.’

Lamb recalls an air of tension as senior military and civilian officials around her prepared for Operation Overlord, the long-discussed Allied invasion of Europe that eventually ended the Nazis’ grip on the continent. 

While Lamb was working on the maps, Patricia Owtram (pictured) was using the German language skills she picked up as a teenager from the Austrian refugees working as a cook and a maid for her grandparents in Lancashire.

While Lamb was working on the maps, Patricia Owtram (pictured) was using the German language skills she picked up as a teenager from the Austrian refugees working as a cook and a maid for her grandparents in Lancashire. 

Later in life Owtram became a TV producer TV for shows such as University Challenge and Sky at Night. Pictured at her home in London on April 10, 2024

Later in life Owtram became a TV producer TV for shows such as University Challenge and Sky at Night. Pictured at her home in London on April 10, 2024

British troops at Juno Beach on D-Day in 1944

British troops at Juno Beach on D-Day in 1944

Many historians describe D-Day as the 'beginning of the end' of the Second World War

Many historians describe D-Day as the ‘beginning of the end’ of the Second World War 

In total D-Day was the largest amphibious invasion in history, with 153,000 troops, supported by 10,440 aircraft and 6,330 ships being involved. Pictured: Canadian soldiers land on Courseulles beach in Normandy, on June 6, 1944

In total D-Day was the largest amphibious invasion in history, with 153,000 troops, supported by 10,440 aircraft and 6,330 ships being involved. Pictured: Canadian soldiers land on Courseulles beach in Normandy, on June 6, 1944

Occasionally passing Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the stairs on her way to work, she wondered what kind of pressure Britain’s leader was under.

‘He was such an amazing man. I mean, he made these speeches which everybody listened to,’ she said. ‘And I could hear him now saying, `We’ll fight on the beaches, fight in the hills. We’ll never surrender.’ We all felt just like that. Absolutely.’

By June 1944, Lamb had been doing her part to defeat the Nazis for almost five years.

In the summer of 1939, she was in France preparing to go to Oxford when her father, a Royal Navy admiral, sent a telegram telling her to come home because war was about to break out. Arriving in Britain on the day war was declared, she immediately joined the Wrens.

A year later, she was in charge of degaussing ships as they entered and exited the Thames estuary. That meant she ensured that ships were demagnetized so they were less susceptible to damage from magnetic mines.

Her next assignment was as a plotting officer at Portsmouth, the home of the Royal Navy. Lamb was part of a team of Wrens who used information from radar stations and coast guards to plot ship movements through the English Channel on a large flat table.

Allied soldiers begin to arrive en-masse with vehicles and equipment on D-Day

 Allied soldiers begin to arrive en-masse with vehicles and equipment on D-Day

Owtram saw Churchill (pictured in 1940) and General Montgomery on the cliffs of Dover in the run-up to D-Day

Owtram saw Churchill (pictured in 1940) and General Montgomery on the cliffs of Dover in the run-up to D-Day

The Allies took approximately 10,250 casualties on D-Day, with around 4,440 killed. Pictured: Graves at the Bayeux War Cemetery, the largest Second World War cemetery of Commonwealth soldiers in France

The Allies took approximately 10,250 casualties on D-Day, with around 4,440 killed. Pictured Graves at the Bayeux War Cemetery, the largest Second World War cemetery of Commonwealth soldiers in France

She later took on a similar role in Belfast, plotting the movements of convoys that carried supplies from North America. That included staffing her post as the news came in that a convoy escorted by her future husband’s ship, the destroyer HMS Oribi, had been attacked by a U-boat wolf pack.

Twelve of the convoy’s 43 ships were lost, but HMS Oribi made it safely to Newfoundland. The couple were married six months later in December 1943.

Lamb said she had a special resolve to help drive the Nazis out of France, particularly the centres of art and culture like Caen and Bayeux, where she had studied.

‘I really wanted (to do) anything that would help me to get – France back to the French,’ she said. ‘We wanted them to belong to each other again.’

While Lamb was working on the maps, Patricia Owtram (maiden name Davies) was using the German language skills she picked up as a teenager from the Austrian refugees working as a cook and a maid for her grandparents in Lancashire. 

She joined the Wrens as soon as she was old enough and was sent to listening bases on the south and east coasts of England to intercept messages sent by German ships.

Owtram said she wrote down ‘exactly what we heard’ and if it was in code she would send it by teleprinter to Bletchley Park.

In her role she would never know what she would hear in a shift, having some boring nights where she heard nothing, and ‘rather exciting’ ones with lots of action.

Her work was so secret that she was not even able tell her sister, Jean, who she later discovered, long after the war, had also been working in codebreaking.

World War II Supermarine Spitfire fighter performs a flyover over white cliffs of Dover during Remembrance Sunday in 2019

World War II Supermarine Spitfire fighter performs a flyover over white cliffs of Dover during Remembrance Sunday in 2019

In the run-up to D-Day, Owtram, then 20, was involved in scanning German radio from a secret base on the white cliffs of Dover. 

While she was reading a book on top of the cliff on watch, she was surprised to look down and spot a small party arriving on the road below.

‘To my astonishment the first two I saw were Churchill and General Montgomery [who commanded the landing forces]. I thought what on earth were they doing on our cliff at 8am? They all said “Good morning” and went and stood and gazed across at France’, she told The Sunday Times

She later learnt the leaders wanted to be seen at the east end of the Channel as part of the plan to deceive the Nazis because the invasion was going to be from the west end.

Later in life, Lamb went on to have three children and become a gardening author.

Owtram became a TV producer TV for shows such as University Challenge and Sky at Night. 

Both women have written memoirs and feel not enough is known by young people about the war years, particularly about the important role women played behind the scenes as spies, members of the resistance and codebreakers. 



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