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93-year-old Norfolk veteran to return to Normandy for the first time since D-Day landings

PUBLISHED: 13:37 25 May 2019 | UPDATED: 15:42 26 May 2019

Normandy veteran Fred Fitch, 93, who was on the first wave on Sword Beach on D-Day as a landing craft operator and has just got his first passport so he can return to Normandy for the first time since 1944. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Normandy veteran Fred Fitch, 93, who was on the first wave on Sword Beach on D-Day as a landing craft operator and has just got his first passport so he can return to Normandy for the first time since 1944. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2019

A Norfolk D-Day veteran will be returning to the sandy beaches of Normandy for the first time since the Second World War, to say his final farewells to his fallen comrades.

Fred Fitch's mother ship, HMS Glenearn, with the Normandy landing craft hanging just above deck level along the sides. Picture: Courtesy of Fred FitchFred Fitch's mother ship, HMS Glenearn, with the Normandy landing craft hanging just above deck level along the sides. Picture: Courtesy of Fred Fitch

It is also the first time royal marine veteran Fred Fitch, 93, has ever got a passport to make the trip to Sword Beach for a D-Day memorial service on June 6.

Mr Fitch, of Heartsease, Norwich, has never been back to Normandy since the fateful day in which tens of thousands of men lost their lives during the Normandy Landings on June 6, 1944.

He was on the first wave of troops that was swept towards Sword Beach by the strong currents, in one of the five main landing areas along the Normandy coast.

Now, 75 years later, the former landing craft operator will be returning to Normandy for a memorial ceremony at Bayeux Cathedral to pay tribute to his brothers-in-arms.

Fred Fitch when he was 18. Picture: Courtesy of Fred FitchFred Fitch when he was 18. Picture: Courtesy of Fred Fitch

"Once [we] landed the air was yellow with cordite and the stench of explosives was everywhere," he said.

"There was constant shouting and barking of orders and the screaming of people in agony as they were maimed and killed. It was enough to traumatise anyone."

He said the landing craft beside his got blown up and they had to pull three survivors from the sea, all while they were a sitting target as they had to wait for troops to return in case the landings were a failure.

They returned to the ship for more personnel and supplies and made a second landing on the beach, and it was at this moment that Mr Fitch was hit by shrapnel.

Allied troops arriving on a Normandy beach during the D-Day landings in June 1944. Picture: PAAllied troops arriving on a Normandy beach during the D-Day landings in June 1944. Picture: PA

They returned back to Southampton for a resupply and to gather more troops before returning to Normandy beaches. Although the fighting had moved inland they were still getting shelled and battleships were still pounding artillery.

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"On the beaches were anti-landing devices as you see in the films," Mr Fitch said.

"The metal devices on the beaches had land mines attached to them so if you nudged one or touched one you'd had it, they'd just blow you up and plenty of people died touching these and hiding behind these."

Allied troops wading through the sea to the Normandy shore during the D-Day landing of June 1944. Picture: PAAllied troops wading through the sea to the Normandy shore during the D-Day landing of June 1944. Picture: PA

Mr Fitch said the painful memories of war had stopped him from ever returning to Normandy but he is making the trip next month on behalf of those who have died since the war and the Royal Navy, which he has a close connection to.

The trip is being organised by former Royal Marine Martyn Holmes, 51, of Breckfarm Lane, Taverham, and Graham Faulkner, 64, of Dussingdale, Thorpe St Andrew, from the Norfolk Royal Marines Association.

Branches of the organisation across the country are also arranging trips for veterans - with priority for those that were there on D-Day - as well as serving members.

Mr Holmes said: "The idea came about after Graham and I were discussing the 75th anniversary, as Graham had taken another member across for the 70th anniversary. Unfortunately that member has since passed.

Normandy veteran Fred Fitch, 93, who was on the first wave on Sword Beach on D-Day as a landing craft operator and is returning to Normandy for the first time since 1944. With him are Graham Faulkner, left, and Martyn Holmes, of the Norfolk Royal Marines Association. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYNormandy veteran Fred Fitch, 93, who was on the first wave on Sword Beach on D-Day as a landing craft operator and is returning to Normandy for the first time since 1944. With him are Graham Faulkner, left, and Martyn Holmes, of the Norfolk Royal Marines Association. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

"Graham and I mentioned this to Fred knowing that he'd probably say no, but this time around we said we would both go with him and so he agreed, saying it was time to finally say his farewells to his fallen comrades and to see Normandy again after all these years.

"I would not miss it for the world, to see his face when he returns, it will be emotional."

The timetable of events for the veteran includes a battlefield tour and a visit to Pegasus Bridge on June 5.

On June 6, a 22km yomp with former and serving marines will retrace the route of the 47 Commando to retell the story of their mission, before a national service ceremony takes place in Bayeux British War Cemetery with a Red Arrows display over Port-en-Bessin.

Fred Fitch is returning to Normandy for the first time since 1944. Picture: Denise BradleyFred Fitch is returning to Normandy for the first time since 1944. Picture: Denise Bradley

Mr Holmes said: "This is to remember all those who gave all and sacrificed themselves so we today and in the future can enjoy the freedoms that we have.

"So many people forget what those men and women went through during the World War."

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