Less Than One in Six British 18-24-Year-olds Know What ‘D-Day’ Was

June 7, 2024
R&WS Research Team
International Relations | Rishi Sunak | Security | UK Government

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In the past week, moving commemorations have been held in Normandy and beyond to mark the 80th Anniversary of the ‘D-Day’ landings in June 1944. That event, the landing from the air and by sea of some 156,000 US, British and Canadian troops in France, opened up a new front in the Second World War in Western Europe and helped hasten the defeat of Hitler’s Germany.

At the British commemoration event in Normandy yesterday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said of the veterans of D-Day: “You risked everything. And we owe you everything. We cannot possibly hope to repay that debt. But we can – and we must – pledge never to forget.”

However, with an ever-diminishing number of Second World War veterans still alive to keep the memories of the conflict in living memory, awareness of ‘D-Day’ and what it meant is fading from public knowledge.

In polling conducted on 5-6 June (exactly 80 years on from the landings themselves), less than half of voters aged 18-24 (37%) or 25-34 (48%) could accurately place ‘D-Day’ as occurring during the Second World War. In fact, only about two-thirds (62%) of voters as a whole could accurately place ‘D-Day’ in the Second World War, with 15% incorrectly believing ‘D-Day’ occurred during the First World War, 4% in the Crimean War, and 3% during the Napoleonic War.

When asked to choose what event occurred on ‘D-Day’ from a list of events that occurred during the Second World War, only 38% choose the correct answer (‘Allied forces invaded German-occupied France’). Voters aged 55-64 were the only age cohort in which a majority (59%) choose the correct answer. 12% of voters believe ‘D-Day’ refers to the day the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. Among voters aged 18-24, only 15% choose the correct answer, with more than one-fifth (21%) saying they believe ‘D-Day’ was the day Germany invaded France.

The ‘D-Day’ landings involved some 156,000 allied troops, with the United States contributing the largest number (73,000), followed by a British contingent of around 61,000, and a further 20,000 Canadians. 

However, when British voters are asked which nation contributed the most troops to the Allied forces on ‘D-Day,’ a plurality of 36% name the United Kingdom, followed by the United States (16%).

The defeat of Nazi Germany was a collective effort of many allied nations, with the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom constituting the ‘Big Three’ who bore the brunt of the fighting against Germany.  

When considering the war in its totality, a plurality of 42% of Britons believe the United Kingdom did the most to defeat Nazi Germany, compared to 12% who think the United States did the most, and only 6% who think the Soviet Union (which numerically contributed the most troops and suffered the most casualties among the Allies) did the most to defeat Hitler’s Germany.

Britain’s contribution to the landings on ‘D-Day’ and to the defeat of Hitler constitute one of the country’s most important positive contributions to the world and is thus a vital part of the country’s history.

When thinking about Britain’s role in history, a majority of Britons (63%) believe it is important that children are taught to be proud of Britain and its history.

However, while majorities of every age group aged 25 and above share this sentiment, voters aged 18-24 are more mixed. While a plurality (39%) think it is important that children are taught to be proud of Britain and its history, 32% think it is not.

The ‘D-Day’ landings are an event for which the British people have justly been proud of their country’s role.

When asked to consider Britain’s role throughout history, 61% agree that, on balance, the country has been a force for good in the world, against 12% who disagree.

Majorities of every age group aged 25 and above agree with that statement, as do a plurality (47%) of those aged 18-24, although more than one-fifth (22%) of this cohort disagree.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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