Purdey and D-Day

07 Jun 2019

Purdey and D-Day

Although Purdey has had many notable clients in Audley House, perhaps one of the most important of the last century was General Eisenhower, whose visits to the company involved discussions that shaped the planning of the invasion of Europe. In Purdey’s: The Guns and the Family, Richard Beaumont records General Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, General Walter Bedell Smith, using the room ‘for conferences leading up to the planning and execution of the D-Day landings on the coast of France.’ These were most likely meetings of the Invasion Committee, and Beaumont goes on to say that the shop staff were always particularly proud when Eisenhower himself attended. Smith was General Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff from September 1942, and had a very close relationship with Jim and Tom Purdey, perhaps due to Jim’s American wife, Mary La Boyteaux. During early meetings of the Invasion Committee, the staff responsible for planning the invasion appear to have taken to using unusual but inconspicuous meeting spaces. One such venue was the Long Room, which was particularly well suited for private meetings, as it was much more secluded than it is today. As a thank you, Smith presented the brothers with a photograph of himself in February 1944, together with the cloth ‘flaming sword’ patch of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force, of which he was Chief of Staff. The mount bears the inscription: 2/9/44, To Jim and Tom Purdey with sincere affection from their friend, Bedell Smith Bedell Smith Smith, often referred to as “Beetle” by Eisenhower, nearly ended up in trouble over the closeness of his relationship to Purdey’s. During 1944, with planning for D Day well underway, he was investigated by the Inspector General’s office for misappropriation of funds. According to a recent biography, the Purdey's were ‘building’ him a shotgun, although the company’s ledgers record that he was actually sold a second-hand gun, no. 18,218, in August 1944. He had also given a toy train to Jok, Jim Purdey’s son, and was supplying US-issued rations to the Purdey larder. Perhaps the most serious offence was that Smith had presented the brothers with two US Army M1 carbines. These had been issued to Smith, but he had reported them as lost and paid for their replacement. Despite the questionable behaviour, Smith seems not to have been disciplined over the incident. Whilst Jim appears to have been closest to Smith, Tom appears to have built a relationship with Eisenhower himself. In early 1945, Tom registered a Staffordshire bull terrier with the pedigree name ‘Indomitable Ike’, and in October 1946 presented Eisenhower with a duck gun, no. 23,967, which had previously been Tom’s. The gift appears to have been well-received, and the following year Eisenhower sent a personal letter to the brothers, wishing them a prosperous year ahead. Smith’s portrait has hung in Audley House for the last seventy-five years, where it was initially displayed alongside the Royal Warrants in the front shop. In recent years it has returned to the Long Room itself, commemorating its small part in the liberation of Europe. The Long Room, circa 1941 The Long Room, circa 1941