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If I Don't Come Home: D-Day Letters - A chat with Richard Bannerman

18/06/2014 13:57 BST | Updated 16/08/2014 10:59 BST

Richard Bannerman was one-year-old when his father, Capt Alastair Bannerman, became one of more than 160,000 Allied troops involved in the D-Day landings of 1944.

Capt Bannerman, of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, was due to lead his men ashore as part of the massive assault by the Allies on the Normandy beaches.

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If I Don't Come Home D-Day Letters eBook now available to buy ITV Studios Global Entertainment

His remarkable story was just one of the elements involved in ITV's recent acclaimed drama documentary, If I Don't Come Home: D-Day Letters.

It focused on Alastair and three other Allied servicemen writing their last letters home to loved ones before D-Day.

When he was taken prisoner by the Germans on June 7, 1944, the notebook containing an extended love letter to his wife Elisabeth was confiscated.

Having survived a prisoner of war camp, and narrowly avoided death, Alastair returned home to his wife and sons in April 1945.

Remarkably some years later a German translation of his letter was returned to Alastair, and he could complete the story.

With the eBook now available to buy, I asked radio producer Richard Bannerman about his thoughts on the ITV drama, and about one of the most remarkable men of the D-Day campaign: his father, Alastair.

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If I Don't Come Home D-Day Letters eBook now available to buy ITV Studios Global Entertainment

It must have been incredibly moving seeing your family's experiences dramatised on TV

"It was. One of the things that I wasn't expecting was the way that they had recreated the scenes of the service men and the soldiers on board ship. It became much more vivid in a way to not just see my dad, but all the people who were penning their letters home while they were in the midst of setting off to what on Earth they didn't know what they were expecting really."

Did your father attend any D-Day anniversaries before he passed away in 2009?

"My father had been to at least one of the reunions - probably the 50th anniversary, which was 20 years ago. They had met up with their surviving friends and comrades from those times on the beaches.

And also I had visited the beach where dad landed at Lion-Sur-Mer a couple of times on family holidays in Normandy, so I was familiar with that area, but of course in peace time, so it was very different from what it was like during the action."

Have you had much response from the public since the ITV show aired?

"Absolutely. There has been a huge response really. People I hadn't heard from in ages have been in touch. My father's story of course was he one of the most incredibly lucky of the people who did not return to their families and who were lucky enough to survive."

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If I Don't Come Home D-Day Letters eBook now available to buy ITV Studios Global Entertainment

Alastair Bannerman's life story is worthy of any movie. An actor, soldier, businessman and teacher, he cheated a premature death on many occasions. Son Richard thinks he was "under some sort of lucky star" after the D-Day landings.

"He found himself staring at a German Panzer after he'd been captured," Richard explains.

"Shells from the British, and presumably the American warships, pounded the countryside and everybody was diving into ditches and holes trying to avoid them.

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If I Don't Come Home D-Day Letters eBook now available to buy ITV Studios Global Entertainment

At one stage Alastair ducked for cover with a German soldier where they swapped photos of either their wives or loved ones or children.

"They'd wait for the bombardment to stop, and then of course he was back to being a prisoner again," explains Richard. "Surreal almost some of the experiences that he went through."

Tell us about the If I Don't Come Home D-Day Letters eBook

"The book is split into two. They have a quite long preamble up to D-Day, and including the actual journey across on those slightly choppy waters.

"My dad was never a particularly good sailor. I think he took a seasickness pill and tried to stay in the fresh air or tried to snatch a bit of sleep on the night of the 5th (June), so he was still writing on the 6th and even a tiny bit on the 7th, when he was caught on the 7th."

Despite facing one of the greatest military operations ever undertaken, Richard was impressed by his father's positive attitude towards the mission, as expressed in a letter to Richard's mother, in which he looked "ahead to what everybody was facing".

"The feelings that he might possibly not see his family again... I think he always had some kind of hunch that he was going to get through it," explains Richard. "His letters weren't 'Oh, I'm not going to come back'. There was nothing negative or fatalistic. He knew they were going off to do a job, and they had to get on and do it. And of course he was missing his wife and his family."

Now in his seventies, Richard may have retired from his work at the BBC, but he's still busy.

"I've been a BBC radio producer for a large part of my career, but that doesn't mean to say one does stop," he explains. Richard is still working hard on assorted radio projects.

"My father was a great example of someone who carried on until he was really in his late 80s. Not that he was working. I think he finally retired somewhere around 80 from the National Trust, and worked very hard putting on festivals and things like that."

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If I Don't Come Home D-Day Letters eBook now available to buy ITV Studios Global Entertainment