Blue plaque unveiled to commemorate designer of D-Day landings floating roadways

11 January 2017 in Events
The man whose engineering designs made the D-Day landings of 1944 possible has been commemorated by Newham Council with a blue plaque unveiled at his former East Ham family home.
Allan Beckett MBE designed the floating roadways which connected the Mulberry Harbours – used to facilitate the rapid offloading of cargo onto beaches during the Allied invasion of Normandy – with the shore.

A special ceremony was held to unveil the plaque at the house in Montpelier Gardens where Mr Beckett and his family lived up until the war. Blue plaques are placed at sites to highlight historical links with people.

The event was attended by Councillor Ken Clark, Newham’s Cabinet member for building communities, public affairs, regeneration and planning; Councillors Bryan Collier and Forhad Hussain; Mr Beckett’s widow Ida Beckett and other members of his family; representatives from the Royal Engineers and Newham Police; and Deputy Lieutenant John Barber, The Queen’s representative in Newham.

Winston Churchill had the idea for the Mulberry Harbours ordering that “they must float up and down with the tide. The anchor problem must be mastered. Let me have the best solution worked out. Don’t argue the matter. The difficulties will argue for themselves”.

Mr Beckett developed the plans for the floating bridges which were given severe weather testing in Scotland. He also designed an anchor that was light enough to be handled but heavy enough to hold the structures in place.

Two harbours were used during the D-Day landings including one between Port-en-Bessin  and La Rivière, codenamed Gold Beach. This was used for ten months after D-Day helping to land more than 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and four million tonnes of supplies.

After leaving the army, Mr Beckett initially set up as a freelance civil engineer, then joined Sir Bruce White, Wolfe Barry and Partners, where he designed and advised on major port developments and flood protection projects throughout the world. He also carried out a feasibility study and subsequent design work, jointly with Rendell Palmer and Tritton, on the lifting sector gates devised for the Thames Barrier.

After retiring in 1989 he continued to work as a freelance consultant for his son Tim's firm, until his eighties. He married his wife Ida in 1949 with whom he had two sons and a daughter. Mr Beckett, who died in 2005 aged 91, was awarded the MBE in 1949 for his wartime work.

Councillor Clark said: “Allan Beckett’s historic and ingenious designs for the floating roadways made the D-Day landings possible, ultimately helping lead to the beginning of the end of the war.

“He was a visionary in his field and it is right we honour his achievements with a lasting memorial in the form of a blue plaque.

“Newham has a long history of famous people including sporting greats, philanthropists and political figures. It is right their time in the borough is recognised and we are working towards this ambition.

Ida Beckett, said: "I am very grateful to the London Borough of Newham for honouring the memory of my husband with this impressive plaque. My husband had many happy memories of his childhood growing up in Montpelier Gardens and he enjoyed living in the lively community of East Ham before the Second World War.

“Allan often told us stories of his adventures here as a child and I think he would be very proud and somewhat surprised if he knew that his old home was being commemorated in this way. Many thanks to the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, and his team for this great honour."

As well as blue plaques, as part of its heritage programme Newham Council is also undertaking a programme of replacing road signs with significant links to the borough’s history and installing green plaques to commemorate links with places or events of historical value.

For example Young Road in Custom House, named after Jack Young, speedway rider at West Ham Stadium, now features both a new street sign and a green plaque commemorating the link with Speedway racing at West Ham.