Tense crowds thronged Kingston station on June 6, 1944, awaiting the arrival of the London evening newspapers. When at last they came the sellers were besieged, and copies were rationed to one a customer.

News of D-Day was what everyone was desperate for. The previous night a huge fleet had drawn up near the French coast, with more than 700 warships escorting 2,727 ships of every kind, from sturdy Channel steamers to stately transatlantic liners between them carrying or towing nearly 3,000 landing craft.

All had sailed from the south coast of England for the Allied invasion of Normandy, and the liberation of continental Europe from Nazi occupation.

At midnight the first of 20,000 invaders' parachutes billowed into the air over France. At 6.30am the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) was broadcasting to the world that "under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France".

The vast operation, mind-reeling in its complexity and heroism, changed the course of World War II. News of its progress, heavily censored, held the nation in thrall, but nowhere more than in the boroughs of Kingston and Twickenham, which had secretly been involved in the planning of the great exercise.

The planning of the world's greatest invasion centred on a map of the region from the Normandy beaches to Luneberg Heath. And most of that map now belongs to the people of Kingston.

It was dedicated to them by General Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied liberation forces in Europe. "For the citizens of Kingston upon Thames" starts the inscription, written in Eisenhower's own hand.

Thus the General (universally known as Ike) paid tribute to the town where he lived and secretly loved between 1942 and 1945, and from where he masterminded much of the preparation for what was officially code-named Operation Overlord, but became known to the world as D-Day.

Ike took command of the US forces in Britain in June 1942. Two months later he was given command of Operation Torch, the landing of Allied forces in French North Africa.

His responsibilities were prodigious, and his home at the end of a gruelling day was an impersonal suite in a London hotel. The strain got so intolerable that he decided to rent a peaceful home he could call his own.

Harry Butcher, his close friend and public relations adviser, found it in Warren Road, at the top of Kingston Hill.

"Ike, I've found you a dream home," he announced.

"He was right. Everything about Telegraph Cottage was right," recalled Kay Summersby, who was Ike's official driver, and the woman he came to love.

She revealed their secret affair in her book Past Forgetting, written in 1973, when she had been given six months to live.

Kingston was unaware of its important new resident. The fact was top secret then.

"The cottage was so secret that very few people knew it existed, and even fewer knew where it was" wrote Kay. "It had five tiny bedrooms and a really old-fashioned bathroom. Each bedroom had its own basin and pitchet and yes, commode. There was no central heating, but between the fireplace in the living room, and the big old stove in the kitchen, we were always very comfortable. There was only one telephone. A direct line to headquarters, this was in the General's bedroom."

Though Telegraph Cottage was small, it had 10 acres of lawns and woodland. Amid their peaceful seclusion, Ike was able to work out problems that had seemed insoluble in the hurly-burly of the London HQ.

He had to leave the cottage in 1942 for operations in North Africa and Sicily. He returned to it at the end of 1943 as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe.

"I'm going to move the whole shebang out to Kingston," he announced on his first day back.

Thus, early in 1944, SHAEF was transferred from Grosvenor Square in London to Bushy Park, just beyond Kingston Bridge in the old borough of Twickenham.

Ike joyfully resumed residence at Telegraph Cottage. Meanwhile, several of his senior staff lived nearby in Four Acres, the large house in George Road that later became Unilever's International Management Training Centre.

Field Marshal Montgomery and other British service chiefs were frequent visitors to Telegraph Cottage, and some of the D-Day planning was done there. Years later a former gardener revealed that Ike set up a D-Day operations room in a garden shed.

Alas, Telegraph Cottage, whose owner regularly opened the grounds for charity and mounted a plaque commemorating Ike's tenure, was demolished in the 1980s. Now the site is given over to executive housing.

D-Day came, and from then until VE Day in May 1945 Ike was mainly in advance headquarters on the continent. But still Telegraph Cottage exerted its calming influence.

On visits to Britain to confer with Winston Churchill he would snatch a few hours at the cottage, returning refreshed to France with an armful of the marrows and beans he had planted in the garden himself.

Within days of victory in Europe, he flew to England and went straight to Telegraph Cottage with champagne for his hard-earned private VE celebrations. He intended to buy the cottage, and drew up the alterations he would make there. But a new career as a statesman lay ahead, and when he left Kingston after that joyful celebration in 1945 it was, officially, for the last time.

However, he did come back, just once more. It was years later, when he had served two terms as president of the United States. He wanted to see again the house which had played such a key role in the planning of Overlord and the winning of the war.

KINGSTON'S CRAFT THAT SPEARHEADED THE BIG INVASION While Ike was planning D-Day, the Royal borough was busy making equipment for what would become the largest amphibious assault in military history.

Nobody knew the scale of the invasion, or when and where it would take place. But everyone knew it would happen.

As with the Dunkirk evacuation four years previously, boats played a vital part in the local war efforts leading up to D-Day.

The Kingston-based company WH Gaze had been famous throughout Surrey since Victorian times as builders and landscape designers. Its activities took a different turn in 1942 when it was one of the first companies in the south-east to receive an Admiralty contract for the construction of assault craft, water ambulances and other vessels destined for the great invasions of Sicily and Normandy.

Gaze had never built craft before. Sworn to secrecy, 60 men and women began work in improvised shipbuilding yards set up in Kingston Hall Road, The Bittoms and Thames Ditton.

Invasion landing barges took four to six weeks each to build, and each was fitted with two 50hp Ford VI engines. They were then taken down to Chelsea, and tested over the meanest mile with engines flat out.

Gaze's own specially designed trailer, drawn by a Foden steam lorry, took the boats to Town End Wharf, at the top of Kingston High Street, for launching into the Thames. It was obvious to everyone that boats were being made in the town, but details of their construction were veiled in secrecy until after the war.

Between 1942 and early 1945, Gaze's secret task force built more than 900 boats. They included 150 assault craft, which carried 7,500 men to the beaches of Normandy, Sicily and North Africa, and 50 water ambulances, each ready to receive six stretcher and 10 sitting casualties.

Designed to run up the beaches, and take the wounded to hospital ships, they were made at Gaze's wartime yard at Thames Ditton. From there they were towed up the Thames to Moulds (a family boatbuilding firm operating from the High Street building now owned by Pizza Express) to be fitted with engines.