Saturday 3 June 2017: RMRG's very own D-day
The heroic story of an amphibian operation codenamed E-day involving two vessels and some 300 Black-headed Gulls – a report from the Seamen’s Mess by Brian Milligan
Exactly 73 years ago allied commanders were putting the final touches to their plans for the Normandy Landings. But in the history of Rye Meads, an amphibian operation codenamed E-day (the ring size for Black-headed Gull) was equally heroic.
“You will have just one hour at the target,” announced Rear Admiral Spall. “After that, we’ll just have to pull out regardless.”
Each of the troops was then given personal issue rings. In the event of casualties, the ring numbers would still be in sequence, explained Chief Petty Officer Swan. (That’s a joke actually).
The ratings were then ordered to manoeuvre the two landing craft into position, on number 2 lagoon. Commander Harris warned that one of them was “a death trap”, and he would be sailing in the other one. So much for leading from the front. Thus Able Seaman Gardiner and Petty Officer Swan managed to bag a place in the more seaworthy craft, and so the assault began.
Meanwhile Admiral Spall had donned a white hat in case of incoming ordnance. However as we approached the islands in question, the adult Larus ridibundus dispersed, and the aerial bombardment never materialised. The only opposition we faced was highly vocal. And faecal of course.
Taking care not to step on a few remaining eggs (after all these sell for £7.50 each at The Botanist on Sloane Square) we attempted to herd the young gulls with the aid of banana boxes. Well, it seemed to make sense at the time. But the birds were having none of it, and did their best to double bluff us by running to join their mates in the “already ringed” section.
However, after half an hour, our troops prevailed. The only casualties were a few sore fingers (E rings are pretty hard) and some knobbly knees.
But surely the greatest act of heroism and courage was yet to come: one small pullus had escaped the island, and was swimming away. Back on the landing craft, Admiral Spall ordered Chief Bosun Emmens – Jolly Roger – into the pursuit. “Approach from the starboard side,” ordered Spall, having thoroughly grasped the complex naval lingo. On the last attempt, Emmens reached into the water, risking the buoyancy of the whole craft, and saved the pullus.
So it was a mention in dispatches for all 6 ringers. No less than 299 Black-headed Gulls with rings on, one of the biggest ever daily totals at Rye Meads. That’s not to mention 3 Lapwing pulli, a brood of Grasshopper Warblers, and a couple of dozen other birds also ringed that day, making 347 in total.
PS: I like to think that black headed gull number 300 was our little escapee. Surely he has a charmed life ahead of him.