This Folio Life: ‘Were You There on 6 June 1944?’

We published Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day this year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. James Rose, editor of our edition, explores here how Ryan collated over 1,000 different accounts in order to produce one of the most vivid and important accounts of the action.

Tom Walker, Publishing Director

On D-Day, Cornelius Ryan was at Normandy (twice as it happens) working as a correspondent for The Daily Telegraph. He was trying to take in all that he saw, and make sense of it. But when it came to writing The Longest Day over a decade later, he needed far more witnesses than just himself. He required accounts from participants and bystanders from all sides of the conflict, engaging in all sorts of activities and at all levels.

 

In order to achieve this gathering of information he advertised in newspaper and trade publications, searching for the men and women he needed: ‘Were You There on 6 June 1944?’. To those who responded he sent the same three-page questionnaire, and received back some 1,150 responses. From those he chose to interview more closely 172 people. Of course, he also amassed a trove of information on unit movements, weather, strategic analysis, maps and more, but it was the questionnaire and interview that formed the backbone to his work. The result? One of the most famous accounts of the Second World War and an incredible piece of journalism.

 

James Rose, Editor
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