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Veteran, 95, remembers Normandy landings in Horham VE Day celebration

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A veteran of the Second World War and the Normandy landings has recalled his apprehension at being conscripted – and his struggles to deal with life after the conflict.

Alan King, who has been Stradbroke and District Royal British Legion branch president for three years, was among millions of people who joined in muted celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday.

Recalling life after the war, he said: “For the first 40 years, I felt completely numb. I wondered if all those onlookers actually understood what the veterans had been through. Now, all I can think about are my lost comrades, and what their lives could have been.”

Alan King was part of the first wave of soldiers to land on the beaches of Normandy.
Alan King was part of the first wave of soldiers to land on the beaches of Normandy.

Mr King, like many other men in this country, had wanted to volunteer to serve in the conflict, but was told to wait.

He said: “My father would not let me volunteer when I reached my 18th birthday. He had witnessed the horrors of the First World War in Gallipoli and said I should wait until I received my call-up papers.

“They arrived six months later in December 1942. Still 18, I was very apprehensive.”

From Norwich barracks, Mr King was sent to Yorkshire to join the 60th Training Regiment, and then on to the East Riding Yeomanry, who were based in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk.

The now 95-year-old was part of the first wave of soldiers to land on the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-Day in 1944, before making his way to the small Dutch town of Kaatsheuvel when VE Day was announced the following year.

He said: “I can remember being completely exhausted, having fought our way there from Normandy – a period of 12 months of relentless battles. In our hearts, we knew that the end was in sight.

“The Dutch people were very war weary. They had lost their men, their farms, their livestock. The whole country was starving and reliant on the RAF for food drops.

“The people really had nothing to offer us, but there was one local resident who managed to get an ice cream maker to work.

“He produced enough ice cream for each soldier to have a spoonful in his tin mug, and each child had some. The soldiers lit a bonfire, there was singing and dancing but no food or drink.”

Mr King did not return to England after VE Day. Instead, he was sent to Germany to help with the repatriation of displaced people, before going back to his job as a pattern maker at Aldridge Brothers in Diss.

Over the years, VE Day has changed for Mr King, but this year was particularly touching, with his youngest daughter, Joyce, arranging a garden party at her home in Horham.

“There were some very kind and understanding people in the village who came out ‘together but apart’ due to social distancing to support the endeavour,” he said.

“A minute’s silence was respected and that means so much to a veteran. I appreciated all of those who turned up, and wish, through your paper, to say ‘thank you, Horham’.”

Mr King had been due to travel to London for VE Day and to Normandy in June for a special veterans service in Arronmanches – both of which have been cancelled due to the worldwide pandemic.

The veteran feels that it is important to continue to commemorate the likes of VE Day and Armistice Day, so that the nation never forgets the sacrifices of the millions of people who died while defending their country.

“For me, the comradeship of my fellow veterans is still so important,” he said. “We have a mutual understanding as we have all seen the same horrors and have the same nightmares 75 years on.”

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