Martin Barraud, of Penshurst, originated the There But Not There six-foot silhouettes of ‘Tommy’ soldiers, which were bought by 5,000 communities across the country to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War last year.
A further 80,000 ten-inch Tommies were sold, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for the charity Remembered, while education packs were sent out to 24,000 schools.
Now he has created Bootprints on Slapton Sands to commemorate a rehearsal for the invasion of Normandy by US troops in Devon, code name Exercise Tiger.
On April 28, 1944, 749 American servicemen were killed when their ships were attacked by German E-Boats.
Mr Barraud has laid out 749 sets of footprints on the shore where the catastrophe unfolded.
He said: “Last year our Tommy campaign captured the hearts of the nation, whilst giving a substantial boost to the mental health and wellbeing of veterans across the UK.
“A year on and we’re hoping the great British public will get behind our D-Day 75 campaign by purchasing their own Bootprints to mark the great sacrifice of our World War II heroes, in particular those who helped kick-start the liberation of Europe with the invasion of Normandy on D-Day.”
The US Ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, said: “For a long time, many people had no idea that so many hundreds of American servicemen lost their lives on the coast of Slapton Sands as they rehearsed for the D-Day landings.
“Those men did not die in vain. Their sacrifices paved the way for their comrades to succeed on the beaches of Normandy and begin the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny.”
Pam Wills was ten years old when Exercise Tiger took place on her doorstep. She remembers meeting the American troops who were stationed nearby.
“The US soldiers came over and talked to us, they gave us sweets and comics, but they then suddenly disappeared,” she recalled.
“We didn’t know Exercise Tiger had taken place, but my father, who was in the Royal Observer Corps watching for enemy aircraft, saw ambulances going to and from Slapton Sands, so we knew something was wrong.”
Laurie Bolton’s uncle was stationed in Devon and took part in the rehearsal. She said: “My uncle, Sergeant Louis Archer Bolton, died during the exercise.
“He was on board LST 531 when it took a direct hit from a torpedo and sank within six minutes. His body was never recovered.”
Mrs Bolton added: “He was assigned to the 607th Graves Registration Company – 1st Platoon – responsible for burying the dead on Utah beach.
“He was just 19 years old and a newlywed when he died, and by all accounts was a very well-liked fellow with a great sense of humour.
“I was born on his birthday eight years after he died, so have always asked about him.”
The impending invasion of France meant that the Exercise Tiger incident was only nominally reported due to the need for absolute secrecy.
This year’s There But Not There campaign is calling on schools, businesses and communities to help raise funds for the veteran community by buying the Bootprints.
Each pair of vinyl prints costs £4. These can be set down in public spaces as an act of remembrance for those who fought to liberate occupied Europe.
Bootprints plaques, which are manufactured by veterans, are also available set into acrylic for £29.99. The proceeds will go towards employment projects for former soldiers.
Each carries the name of one of the 22,763 British and Commonwealth service personnel and 10,945 US forces who died on D-Day or during the ensuing campaign.
Martin Barraud told the Times: “Two months ago, I was asked to think about how we could commemorate and bring to people’s attention the devastating tragedy.
“I looked at lots of material from then – and D-Day itself – and wanted to try and create something to make people think about that disaster.
“I ended up with the concept of just the bootprints, American bootprints, together, not in neat rows but in some sort of order, looking out to sea, to France. There, but not there.
“The emotional response to the installation has been overwhelming. I want to make people think by appealing to their senses; to see the installation, and think of the young men there, but not there.
“To look at the deep, freezing sea, to hear the sound of the waves and be inspired to look back.”
He added: “Our enduring hope is that every one of the US, British and Commonwealth soldiers, sailors and airmen who gave their lives will have a Bootprint purchased in their memory.
“I’d like every single one of those names to find a home. Each was an individual.”
For more information visit https://shop.therebutnotthere.org.uk/