December 8 2013 Latest news:
By Stacia Briggs
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
The young men who once nervously waited for the signal to move forward are now in their 80s and 90s.
But their eyes still sparkle and their memories are as fresh as if D-Day happened yesterday – and now they need your help to make one final pilgrimage back to Normandy.
On June 6, 1944, Allied Forces from Britain, Canada and America landed on the beaches of Normandy to liberate the French from their four-year occupation by the forces of Nazi Germany.
Troops landed on five beaches and, landing on Sword – one of the two British beaches – were the young men, mostly in their late teens and early twenties, of the Royal Norfolk Regiment.
By the end of what became known as The Longest Day, many had paid the ultimate price for our freedom – now, in some small way at least, we can help repay the debt.
Normandy veterans from Norfolk are determined to return to France to say goodbye to old friends and capture one last mental picture of the fields where they fought for our freedom.
As reported in yesterday’s EDP, the Norwich and District Branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association is looking to raise £20,000 for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in June 2014.
A fund-raising quiz has been organised by veterans Margaret Dickinson, John Eastbury and George Gallagher, from north Norfolk, but today we are asking readers to help raise the cash to take our veterans back to Normandy one last time.
Jack Woods, secretary of the Norwich branch, explained that, for many, this would be the very last trip to France for an emotional reunion and a poignant memorial to those who never came home.
“As an elderly person, you often feel invisible,” he explained. “I go about my business and no one looks twice, but in Normandy I feel – and the veterans feel – as if we belong, as if we’re somewhere where we really matter. We don’t want any Normandy veterans to feel invisible. If they want to go back one final time to make their peace then we want them to be able to do it without worrying about the cost. When we go to Normandy, we take with us the spirits of those that never came home.”
Jack was serving with the Ninth Royal Tank Regiment and landed in France on June 21, by which time the Allies were well-established, but being held by German forces. Quickly galvanised for the battle of the Odon River and the capture of Caen, he witnessed horrific loss of life, events burnt into his memory along with the recollection of intense fear.
“Anyone who says they weren’t frightened is lying. It’s a terrifying prospect – the first time you go into action is the best because you don’t know what to expect. After that, you knew and you were frightened,” he said. “I’m lucky – I don’t have the flashbacks any more, but some people do; they still have nightmares, they still scream in the night. They can’t forget what they saw.
“When we were there, all we wanted to do was come home, but now we need to go back.”
With high travel insurance costs for elderly travellers and the need to bring carers and supporters for the veterans able to make the journey to France, Jack, 88, estimates the trip will cost £20,000.
“Every year, there are fewer of us returning to Normandy, but when we’re there we’re still the same young men we were then. Sticking together, fighting for each other,” he said.
“We won’t be forgetting the people unable to make the trip, the veterans who are too frail to make that last journey. They will be a vital part of the anniversary, just as they were a vital part of what happened on D-Day. We will go to Normandy for those too frail to travel themselves and to remember those who never came home. Anniversaries come and go, but we will never forget.”
There will be more details about how you can donate money or organise a fund-raising event to raise cash for the Normandy Veterans in tomorrow’s EDP, or you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Stacia Briggs, Eastern Daily Press, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.
A fund-raising quiz will be held at The Cottage in Louden Road, Cromer, on September 20 at 2.30pm for teams of up to four people. Entry is free.