Photo Gallery: D-Day veterans set to return to Normandy beaches
- Credit: Archant
The March to 70 has been long and arduous and many have fallen along the way – but for Norfolk's D-Day veterans who are making the pilgrimage to Normandy, writes STACIA BRIGGS, the journey starts on Wednesday. She and photographer DENISE BRADLEY will join our D-Day heroes and heroines for an emotional trip back to the French beaches where they fought for our freedom.
We asked you to open your hearts and help Norfolk's D-Day heroes fulfil their final dream – to return to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of the Longest Day – and you did them proud.
On Wednesday, the veterans, their family members and carers will set off on their pilgrimage to France thanks to your generosity – generosity that saw some older readers offer us their winter fuel allowance while younger readers sent their pocket money in order to ensure the emotional trip took place.
For many of our veterans, this will be their Normandy swansong, the last time they will gather in significant numbers to remember the great turning point of the Second World War, the day that marked the beginning of the end of the last war.
In a sign of their advancing years, Reg Burge – pictured on today's front page at an event held last November to mark the successful end of our fundraising campaign – has since fallen in among the ranks of his comrades who lie under Portland stone in France's Commonwealth cemeteries.
But next week, Mr Burge's widow Kitty will be performing the ritual he has maintained since his first trip back to Normandy – laying a wreath for the friends who were killed in the accident which ended Mr Burge's war and left him searching for their gravestones for decades.
The Allied invasion was the largest amphibious assault ever launched, involving an invasion force of more than 156,000 soldiers, 8,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft.
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Their aim was to break through the German defences, advance on Paris and liberate France from German occupation. In total, British and Commonwealth casualties on D-Day numbered around 4,300.
For the heads of state who will visit the Normandy beaches that once ran red with blood, the dignitaries who will step in the footsteps of the soldiers who fought for our freedom and for millions who will watch the commemoration of June 6 1944 across the world, there will be no personal recollections of June 6 1944.
But for those who were there, the memories of the 'Longest Day' burn brightly. History was written on the beaches of Normandy 70 years ago on Friday, the final chapter of the war in Europe had begun.
Jack Woods, secretary of the Norwich and District Normandy Veterans Association said that it was the duty of veterans to return to this small but significant corner of France to pay their respects to the fallen and to ensure that their efforts were never forgotten.
'Most of our members don't take holidays, we go back to Normandy, instead,' he said.
'For us, it's a duty, something we do for those that didn't come back to make sure that they are never forgotten. There's a great deal of attention this year because it's the 70th anniversary, but most of us have been coming back to France, quietly, for decades.
'When you're back you remember what it was like to be in the middle of it all, you remember the friends and the comrades who didn't make it, you remember the ridiculous nature of war and you remember why we can never allow this to happen again.
'When we were first in France, we were young men. We were fighting for our country and we had been whipped up into almost a frenzy of hatred for the Germans – when I first went over, I hated them. Then I saw my first dead Germans and I realised: 'they're just like us'. Being taught to kill does something to you, and we shouldn't ever forget that.'
While in Normandy, the Norwich and District NVA will be laying around eight wreaths and 50 crosses to commemorate those for whom D-Day and the months that followed marked the end of their war, the comrades who never came back.
'There is a story behind every wreath and every cross,' said Jack, 'just as there is a story behind every headstone in every cemetery. They may just be names and numbers now, but every single one of them left behind a life so that we could have the freedom we take for granted every day.'
Have you visited Normandy to pay tribute to our war heroes? Write, with full contact details, to the Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk