Photo gallery: D-Day heroes’ return is tinged with both pride and poignancy
- Credit: copyright: Archant 2014
The March to 70 has reached the last post – Norfolk's D-Day heroes are back on home soil today with memories to last them a lifetime.
After leaving yesterday morning at 8.45am, the 50-strong party, boasting 15 veterans of the Normandy campaign, arrived back in Norwich last night after a seven-day trip.
Jack Woods, secretary of the Norwich and District Normandy Veterans Association, thanked EDP readers for their generosity in helping to fund the veterans' expedition to France.
'Five years ago when we started the March to 70 we weren't sure how we would get our members here, we just knew that as many of us as possible had to come,' he said.
'We have come a long way and we have got to this point because of all the people who have helped us. It gives us hope for the future, because when people care, there is always a future.'
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This week's trip has seen Norfolk's veterans take part in a host of ceremonies, services and commemorations that have seen them rub shoulders with the Queen and Barack Obama and be in the company of 17 heads of state.
There have been private services of remembrance for NVA members who have passed away and tears for the comrades who were never able to grow old. Veterans have been welcomed to French villages by mayors and dignitaries, pensioners and children alike.
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In this ever-changing landscape of Normandy, there are two constants: gratitude to the fallen who gave their lives for freedom and gratitude to the surviving survivors for their sacrifices.
All week, the veterans have been overwhelmed with gratitude from the French.
Their progression through the villages and hamlet of northern France has been at a snail's pace due to the huge numbers of people queuing up to hug them, shake their hands and, above all, thank them.
Even the coach was delayed when a French driver pulled across its path to rush out to offer thanks to the veterans, her joyful cries of 'merci!' punctuated by numerous kisses.
Cemeteries have been visited, wreaths and crosses have been laid, memories have been shared and memories have been made: for those who made the 400-mile journey, it has been a trip that they will never forget.
'For some people, and I include myself, this trip may well have been the last time they will ever be on Normandy soil. We come back to honour our fallen comrades and it's our duty,' said Mr Woods.
'All of us in our hearts hope that we will go back again one day. But you never know what the future has in store.
'What we do know is that nowhere feels the same to us as Normandy – it's a special place for us. Always will be.'
Do you have a D-Day, or Second World War, story? Email firstname.lastname@example.org