Veterans return to Normandy in battle to preserve the memories of those who fought in northern France
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017
Seventy-three Normandy summers have passed since soldiers appeared on French beaches like a surprise storm.
But for those who were there, it is essential that what happened in France doesn't fade away into history books.
A lifetime has passed since these men ran towards a barrage of mortar fire smoke and uncertainty, offering their tomorrows for our today and for Norfolk and Suffolk's Normandy veterans, the days, weeks, months or years they spent in France securing freedom for communities, a nation and then a continent have left them determined that the efforts made in 1944 should never be forgotten.
And while their numbers have dwindled significantly, the annual pilgrimage to France began this morning as six East Anglian veterans, their carers, friends and families, set off across the Channel to spend June 6 in the same place they were 73 years ago.
Six D-day veterans from the Norwich and District Normandy Veterans Association will spend six days in France attending large and small-scale ceremonies and events across the Normandy region.
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Jack Woods, from the 9th Battalion Royal Tank Regiment, 31 Tank Brigade, David Woodrow from the 652 Air Observation Squadron, Royal Air Force, Alan King from the East Riding Yeomanry, 33rd Armoured Brigade, Len Fox, Despatch Rider, Royal Service Corps, Harry Bowdery, Chief Petty Officer, Royal Navy and Len Mann, 12th Battalion Devonshire Regiment, Airborne Divison: every one of them a hero and every one of them transformed by one devastating yet triumphant summer.
All bear their scars, physical or psychological, from the conflict and all are compelled to travel back to France while they are still able to remember those they left behind and now, those who are unfit to travel to pay their respects.
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Blue-blazered veterans no longer parade through the streets of France in their hundreds before a ceremony or service – it is estimated that only 500 veterans are still alive and only a handful will be travelling to Normandy this year.
Today, the newest battle is to preserve the memories of those who fought in northern France before they are lost forever.
Veterans will make their way to Caen before a packed itinerary which starts with a rendezvous with Lord Richard Dannatt at Crepon, a memorial service at Rots, D-Day commemoration services at Arromanches and visits to Pegasus Bridge, Ranville War Cemetery and Tilly sur Suelles.
Association secretary said it was his and other veterans' duty to return while they were able to remember those that have fallen.
'History was written on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 as the final chapter of the war began,' he said, 'we will return for as long as we are able to tell our stories and the stories of those who can no longer tell them.'
Mr Woods added that the association was formulating a plan to cover the 74th and 75th anniversaries of D-Day: 'We very much hope some veterans will be able to attend both,' he added.