The Only Woman To Land On the Beach At Normandy

Having just celebrated D-Day — the day in 1944 when Allied forces in World War II invaded France from offshore — it’s hard to imagine that during the largest seaborne invasion in history only one woman hit the beach at Normandy. During that time, women weren’t allowed to serve in combat, so how did a female slip through the cracks and land on the beach with 150,000 men? First, she was a journalist, and second, she was a stowaway. In June 1944, the British government accredited 558 writers, radio journalists and photographers to cover the D-Day landings. By rights, Martha Gellhorn, an established war correspondent for Collier’s magazine, should have been one of them, but requests from women were automatically turned down. That’s when Gellhorn took to the toilet. She stowed away in the bathroom of a hospital ship, and then disguised herself as a stretcher bearer. In the confusion, no one noticed that she was a woman. By nightfall on June 6, 1944, more than 9,000 soldiers were dead or wounded. More than 100,000 others, including Gellhorn, had survived the landing. Other women followed, but not right away — it would be 38 days after D-Day that the first 49 WACs would land on Normandy beach. As the only female journalist present on D-Day, Gellhorn wrote a brilliant first-hand story of the invasion.