Wartime plotter with front row seat for D-Day invasion dies in US aged ninety

A Bexhill woman who plotted troop movements for the D-Day landings has died in Connecticut aged 90.

Olivia Joyce Cottrell LeVan emigrated to America with her husband after the war, but was born in Brighton and grew up in Bexhill. She died peacefully in a health centre in Greenwich, Connecticut, on Friday July 18.

During her army career, she worked in the operations room for the D-Day landings, charting the movement of the allied forces crossing the channel to invade.

Olivia was born on October 14, 1923 to Thomas Cottrell and Liliane (nee Essling) Cottrell. Her father was a prominent British cartoonist who drew for a number of weekly magazines including Punch and Blighty, and was a press cartoonist for the Beaverbook group of papers. “Wit’s Krieg,” compilation of his WWII work, is in the collection of the Imperial War Museum in London.

After spending her childhood in Bexhill, Olivia joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in May 1941, just as the Luftwaffe raids on London stepped up to new levels of ferocity.

After training she was sent to Dorchester Barracks where she worked as a switchboard operator, before moving to Bovington Camp, the tank headquarters of General Montgomery, and then on to Weymouth Barracks to be trained as a plotter.

At Weymouth she learned how to plot shipping and aircraft movements, and pass the information along to gunners. When plotters were needed for aircraft operations, she transferred to the RAF base at Middle Wallop, in Hampshire.

Here, in the operations room in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, she plotted the movement of the D-Day forces crossing the English Channel.

During the war she met Arthur LeVan, an American soldier, on a blind date in London. They married in July 1945. She came to the US as a war bride on the Queen Mary and lived in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, Arthur’s home town.

Olivia became a US citizen in November 1953, and followed her husband to Greenwich for his work. She worked in Greenwich for over 20 years as an executive secretary at companies including Timex, Heminway & Bartlett, Greenwich Academy, Greenwich Hospital, American Optical Corporation, and for Amb. Joseph Verner Reed.

Olivia enjoyed the Greenwich harbor ferry boat rides, vacationing in Bermuda, her cat Simon, listening to her daughter sing, gardening, and writing. She wrote a memoir of growing up in England, her war experiences, and the often difficult adjustment to living in the US as a war bride.

She is survived by her daughter, Denise LeVan, of Stamford, Connecticut; her stepsister Sally Thorpe, of Hailsham, and stepbrother Robin Cottrell, of London. She was pre-deceased by her husband, Arthur.

The family thanked Masonicare Hospice Care and Greenwich Woods for the loving care given to Olivia.

Arrangements for the funeral are being handled by Leo Gallagher & Son Funeral Home, 2900 Summer St., Stamford, CT, but the service will be private.

Rather than flowers, the family asked that contributions be made to Masonicare Hospice Care, the Connecticut branch of the Alzheimer’s Association, or Friends of Felines, a cat adoption charity in Stamford.