Emotional return to beaches for D-Day veterans 70 years on

Arromanch Beach 9th June ANL-140618-115420001
Arromanch Beach 9th June ANL-140618-115420001

Members of a north Suffolk Royal British Legion branch paid their respects in a week-long trip to France to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Branch president Ted Bootle and Alan King, both D-Day veterans, and Mr King’s daughter, standard bearer and welfare officer Joyce Cooper, travelled to Normandy on June 4.

The largest seaborne invasion in history, the Allies suffered 10,000 casualties.

All three are also members of the Norwich and District Normandy Veteran Association. Mrs Cooper and Mr King travelled with the association, while Mr Bootle travelled independently with his extended family, having booked his trip a year in advance, and stayed with a French family.

Over the course of the trip there were many events, including a visit to Colleville Montgomery for a memorial service organised by the Normandy veterans on day two, and a service in the village of Rots, just outside of Caen, at the Royal Marine Commando Memorial, where Mr King was chosen to lay a wreath.

Mrs Cooper told the Diss Express: “It was a very emotional trip. I’ve been there with him before but this time is was quite poignant.

“I think it is probably harder every year. The nightmares never go away. They have lived with these memories for 70 years.

“It’s comradeship, most of them live alone, it’s being with friends of like mind with shared interest.”

Day three of their travels marked 70 years of the landings. It comprised of four main events - a service in Bayeux Cathedral, Bayeux Cemetery service, Sword Beach and Arromanches.

The Norwich Normandy Veterans arranged to attend just two of these- due to age and frailty of some of the members - the Bayeux Cemetery and Sword Beach. The day started very early, leaving the hotel on the outskirts of Caen for security checks, then coaches were escorted by military police in groups of eight via the ring road motorway system, which had been closed for two days to allow freedom of movement for coaches and heads of state, with armed police on every bridge.

Thousands attended the service, which began at 11am. Mrs Cooper joined the line up with the Stradbroke and District RBL standard for a parade, before joining the line up for a guard of honour for the Queen. Following lunch in the veteran village, provided by the RBL, the group left for Sword Beach, where four huge grandstands had been erected for those with security passes, due to the fact 27 heads of state were present for this commemoration.

The following day, Mr King, who served in the East Riding Yeomanry, an armoured core, and survived five hits in his tank during the conflict, made a private visit to a cemetery to pay respects to one of his comrades, Corporal LH Wilkes, who was shot in the head, and died in his arms.

The group later travelled to a war cemetery in Hottot-les-Bagues, joined by a highland pipe band from Argentina. Ashes of a Norwich branch veteran were also scattered.

The pipe band were also present for a wreath laying, held in the village of Hottot, where the group were greeted by children, five mayors, and French standards.

Mrs Cooper added particular highlights included just being there with her father, joining a guard of honour after the Bayeux Cemetery service for the Queen, and taking part in three memorial services with the Argentinian Highland Pipe Band, who also carried the Union standard..

She said: “ I value the opportunity to share these memories with my father, who never talked about the issues of war for 50 years.

“The past, is what makes a person who they are, and forms their views on life to a certain extent, it helps to gives me understanding.”

n The First World War supplements, chronicling the history of the conflict, return to the Diss Express next Friday, June 27.