The only medic on the beach

Flight Lieutenant Richard Rycroft

“There were about twenty American Soldiers…lying in holes in the shingle. They had only received elementary first aid and after twelve hours in the open were in some cases severely shocked.” 

So reads the medical report from Flight Lieutenant Rycroft, one of few British personnel to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day and the only medical officer available to tend to hundreds of casualties. 

Rycroft’s story, and that of the Royal Air Force radar party he landed with – No. 21 Base Defence Sector – is little-known today but is deserving of more recognition. 

Rycroft had arrived to chaotic scenes on D-Day’s most notorious beach, with heavy US casualties strewn across the battlefield and no sign of the medical organisation he had expected, US medics having themselves been caught in the crossfire.  

Rycroft’s unit also came under fire shortly after landing, with personnel forced to take refuge in hastily dug foxholes and under vehicles for several hours until the bombardment stopped. 

Throughout this time, assisted by one orderly and the unit padre, Rycroft tended to the RAF wounded and many Americans, who had only received basic first aid since their early morning assault.

By 9.30pm, the wounded had been attended to and could be transported to locations more sheltered from enemy fire. Rycroft was to have no rest however, as he continued to treat patients through the night and into the next day. By the time he downed tools, he had worked for 48 hours straight.

Rycroft received a Military Cross for his actions on D-Day. An extract from the citation reads: “He set an example of great courage and devotion to duty and was responsible for saving many lives.”

This story has been contributed by Dr Sebastian Ritchie, Deputy Head of the Air Historical Branch, Royal Air Force.

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The only medic on the beach