The commemoration of the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the allied landings that began the Normandy campaign, provides an opportunity to consider the role that members or those involved with the legal profession played in these seismic events. 

Some legal careers from the Second World War are well charted, such as the role of the British prosecuting lawyers at the Nuremberg war trials that included Hartley Shawcross KC and David Maxell Fyfe KC. 

This article raises awareness of one campaign undertaken by the Inns of Court Regiment, which was a regiment with a legal history. (It then recalls the names of some of those from that regiment who fell in Normandy.) 

The Inns of Court Regiment 

The Inns of Court Regiment was formed from the four Inns of Court with the motto 'Salus populi suprema lex' (the safety of the people is the supreme law). Its origins date back to 1584 when judges were themselves asked to fight in wars, including against Robert the Bruce. It was to earn its name ‘The Devil’s Own’ from King George III who, on finding out its legal connection, named it, reflecting his deep dislike of lawyers. By 1908, it became part of the Territorial Army, fighting in the First World War but mostly involved in officer training. It was involved in the Second World War as an armoured car division.


In Normandy 1944, the regiment under 'C' Squadron landed on Graye-sur-Mer at Juno Beach, one of the British beaches, 30 minutes after the assault had started on 6 June 1944. Their mission was to drive as quickly as they could in small, armoured groups ahead of the main allied forces to blow up bridges over the River Orne near Caen. The aim was to stop the Germans supporting their defending troops by bringing up reinforcements, particularly the 21st Panzer Division who were thought to be in the vicinity. 

Juno Beach was some thirty miles from their destination, requiring a trek through enemy territory. If successful in their operation, they were to await the allied forces catching up with them. In the meantime, they could hide and try to contact the French resistance and report on troop movements back to the allied front line. Certainly, it seemed a hazardous expedition which showed in the tracking of casualties from that regiment over the period from 6-8 June 1944.  

The casualties were caused by the inherent difficulty in landing on the beaches under intense fire, mines, and local resistance, including a friendly fire incident, commemorated by a memorial now at the Jerusalem crossroads, south of Bayeux. (The Canadians, perhaps not considering that the British might have advanced in the confusion so far, attacked one of their armoured groups.) 

Four days later, their mission was aborted with those surviving becoming observers for the main allied task force. They had not ultimately been successful in reaching any of their targets.

In recognition of the regiment’s role at Normandy, some who died are remembered below. 

Exactly their connection to the Inns of Court Regiment remains uncertain other than serving, as from their ages the officers would have seen Normandy as their first direct action. Being in their early twenties, they would only have left school during the war, so they would have had no opportunity to go to university due to conscription. 

The Inns of Court was referred to as a ‘regiment of lawyers’ so one may speculate that connections may have been through family, including relatives’ service in the First World War, which was associated with roles at one of the four Inns of Court. 

Notwithstanding, their sacrifice should be recalled. 

As one pauses to reflect the overall significance of the Normandy landing, the bravery of the fallen on 6 June 1944 should act as an inspiration from the Inns of Court to all within or connected with the legal profession.

The Fallen

  • Lieutenant William Ian Havelock Gwynne-Jones (Ian) was 20 years old. He lived in Gerrards Cross and had been educated at Eastbourne College, leaving in 1941. He was killed on 7 June 1944, possibly from the friendly fire incident by Canadian Thunderbolts. He is buried at the Tilly-sur-Seulles cemetery. 
  • Lieutenant Oliver Sinnatt was 22 years old. He was born in Sleaford, Hertfordshire. He was killed on 6 June 1944 when he engaged in fire with a German defence post at La Riviers. He was killed alongside his armoured car operator, Trooper William George Hall. They are both buried at Ryes War Cemetery. He was remembered by Letchworth Rugby Club in a description as ‘a fearless rugby player in his youth.’
  • Lieutenant Robert Wigram was posthumously awarded the Military Cross ‘in recognition of his gallant and distinguished services in Normandy’ after he was killed on 8 June 1944. He along with Lieutenant Yodaiken had captured a German colonel and two other officers. They were returning when they were ambushed and killed. His gravestone records the motto 'Dulcis Amor Patriae' (sweet is the love of country). Lieutenant Trevor Yodaiken was 33 years old living at Christchurch, Hampshire.
  • Lieutenant Patrick Robert Dupre Shaw from Bournemouth, Hampshire was killed at 10.30am on 6 June 1944 while still on the beaches when his armoured car was hit by an antitank weapon. He was buried at Bayeux War Cemetery. 
  • Trooper Tom Smith aged 23, was killed in action on 6 June 1944. He had been employed by Messrs T Bolton & Sons Copper Smelters & Manufacturers, Widnes.

The Roll of Honour in the August 1944 edition of the Law Society Gazette lists six solicitors and articled clerks as 'killed in action in Normandy'. They are: 


  • Lt. Col John Winn Atherton, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. He was admitted in 1928 and a partner at Weymouth firm De Gex & Atherton. 


  • Captain Perceval Edward Gott Coode, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, admitted in 1935 and a partner at St Austell firm Coodes & Giffard.


  • Captain George Dyer Nott, Royal Armoured Corps, admitted in 1934 and a partner at Halstead Essex firm W.A. Smith, Morton & Sons. 


  • Major John Meaburn Staniland, Lincolnshire Regiment, admitted in 1934 and a partner at Boston firm Grocock & Stanisland.


  • Major Alexander John Taylor, Royal Artillery, articled at London firm Lawrence Messer & Co.


  • Lieutenant Philip Mervyn Young, York and Lancaster Regiment, articled to his father at Sheffield firm Wake, Smith & Co. 


Michael Cross, Gazette news editor


Gillian Mawdsley is associate lecturer at the Open University