Last D-Day heroes salute comrades

Published: Saturday 6th June 2015 by The News Editor

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Some of the last British heroes of the liberation of Europe will attend services in Normandy today, marking the 71st anniversary of D-Day.

Ceremonies are being held in Arromanches and Bayeux, the first town to be liberated from Nazi occupation following the D-Day landings by Allied troops in northern France on June 6, 1944.

About 150 British ex-servicemen have crossed the English Channel to commemorate the military invasion which changed the course of history, the Spirit of Normandy Trust said.

At beaches, cemeteries and villages across the region, troops, now in their late 80s and 90s, have been turning out to remember the legacy left by their fallen comrades.

Bob Gamble OBE, of the Royal British Legion, said: “It is a privilege to be here today, on the 71st anniversary of D-Day to pay our respects and recognise the sacrifice made by those who were abroad and on home soil.

“As the nation’s custodian of remembrance, the Royal British Legion is proud to play a part in this year’s commemorations. This annual journey solidifies friendship and grows comradeship, allowing the veterans’ memories to live on.”

For some, as their advancing years take their toll, it will be the last time they return across the Channel to retrace their footsteps in one of the most decisive operations of the Second World War.

Many veterans are visiting some of the Allied landing beaches – codenamed Juno, Gold, Sword, Omaha and Utah – set across a 50-mile stretch of Normandy coastline where the D-Day landings took place.

It was there that thousands of troops came ashore from the Channel to help turn the tide of war into an eventual victory against Hitler’s Germany.

Some 156,000 Allied troops landed on the five invasion beaches on June 6, 1944, in an operation that wartime prime minister Winston Churchill described as: ”Undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place.”

It marked the beginning of an 80-day campaign to liberate Normandy which involved three million troops and cost the lives of 250,000 people.

Crucial to the early part of the campaign was the successful glider-borne assault on Pegasus Bridge, which was immortalised in the 1960s film The Longest Day.

Led by Major John Howard, a team of Horsa gliders silently landed to take the strategically vital bridge and another nearby after a 15-minute skirmish, in which two soldiers were killed and 14 wounded.

This paved the way for the Allies to surge inland, and Maj Howard famously signalled the success of the first British objective on D-Day by transmitting the codewords “Ham and Jam”.

Yesterday, at a service at Colleville-Montgomery, yards from Sword Beach, local mayor Frederic Loinard spoke of the gratitude of the French for the role the Allies played in helping defeat Nazi Germany.

And Norwich and District Normandy Veterans’ Association member Len Fox, 90, told of the sheer horror he and his young comrades endured battling on The Longest Day.

He said: “As a 19-year-old, I had never left home.

“It was very scary because we didn’t know whether we were going to see our parents the next day, or even if we were going to survive D-Day.

“I was one of the lucky ones. I regard the lads who are buried in the cemeteries, they are the real heroes. We just had a job to do.”

Published: Saturday 6th June 2015 by The News Editor

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