Fighting on the beaches

Some D-Day curiosities

Did you know that the half-finished manuscript of one of the 20th century's most famous novels was carried around the battlefield during D-Day?

Fighting on the beaches

It's understandable that most of the coverage this week of D-Day's 75th anniversary will be serious and solemn. But even history's greatest events have their associated trivia - in fact the tiny curiosities are all the more fascinating because they're part of a greater story. Here are a few facts about D-Day that might have escaped your attention ...


- One of the US soldiers was a young J.D. Salinger, who had six chapters of the unfinished Catcher in the Rye in his backpack.

- One of the Canadians was James Doohan, who became Scotty in Star Trek. He lost a finger in the fighting (as you can notice in some scenes).

- The Paras' codeword was ‘fish and chips'. It was their way of telling if someone behind enemy lines at night was friend or foe - one would call out ‘fish', the other would reply ‘chips'.

- Lord Lovat landed with his bagpiper, who walked up and down the beach wearing a kilt and playing Hieland Laddie. The Germans refrained from shooting him because they thought he'd gone mad.

- The assembly point off the Isle of Wight was known as ‘Piccadilly Circus'.

- In 1943, early plans for the invasion had blown out of a window in London. They were picked up by a passer-by with eyesight so bad he couldn't read them ... so he just handed them in.

- By the morning after D-Day some enterprising French women had set up a brothel in a damaged landing craft. The police soon raided it.

- Several of the amphibious vehicles used in Normandy were later painted yellow and used by Duck Tours, who until 2017 drove tourists around London and along the Thames.



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Rubik's Cube

A Rubik’s cube has more combinations than light travels inches in a century. This is my favourite illustration of how a very small number of factors can produce an absurdly complicated situation. A silly little toy, with only three squares in each of its three dimensions. How can that get complicated? Well, as anyone who's ever tried to solve one just by guessing will tell you, it gets very complicated. The number of possible combinations is 43,252,003,274,489,856,000. Forget billions - that's 43 quintillion and change. (In fact the cube's manufacturers just said ‘billions' in their advertising, figuring that no one would know what a quintillion was. It's a billion billion.) The number of inches light travels in a century, meanwhile, is a mere 37,165,049,856,000,000,000. Or thereabouts.