Friday 7 June 2019

D-Day 75th Anniversary Service

This week I have been in the company of some very special men on what can only be described as a pilgrimage of commemoration and remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. Its been a very memorable and emotional few days in the company of so many brave men and women who served their country in WWII and other conflicts after. The service yesterday was attended by HRH the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William) who gave a moving reading of his Grandfathers speech on D-Day. One of our Veterans, Don also gave a reading and the unfaltering firmness of his voice said volumes for how much this event meant to the Veterans present.

The weather held off for most of the day with a brief but ill timed shower during the wreath laying ceremony. Other than that it was a beautifully sunny day with blue sky's dotted with fluffy white clouds and everywhere the sound of laughter and friendly words. All age groups were represented with veterans of 100+ accompanied by great great grandchildren, barely a few months old. All who were old enough to be aware of it, shared the feeling that this event was special and very important. It's only been five years since the last big commemoration services and the ranks of the D-Day veterans has been cruelly thinned by time and age. In five years time there may be fewer still and then the responsibility of remembrance will fall on the shoulders of a new generation.

One of the things I found both touching and encouraging was the number of children and young people present. Many were the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the vet's but there were also school groups and families unconnected with the service. They need to see and experience these events to foster a connection and link with their history. Without getting too political I have always firmly believed that a people that forgets its history is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Division, tribalism, lack of empathy and nationalism thrive in that vacuum  and it would be a tragedy if the sacrifice of the greatest generation were for nought.

Don Shepherd (Sapper D-Day Juno Beach) and Albert England (RN on LCT's to Gold Beach) enjoy a drink together.

Myself and Albert England. Albert's picture is on the front page of The Guardian this morning.

With Major John Hawkins. Johns father served in WWII and John served in Korea. He had recently found out he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in that theatre.

The band of the Royal Engineers at the start of the service.

The Duke of Cambridge reads an extract from a speech given by his Grandfather, King George IV

Don gives a reading from the poem, Little Ships.

Later Don was interviewed by local news and ITN.

The Normandy Memorial at the Arboretum

The wreath and message left by Prince William

My Brother-in-Law Ray, interviewing a British veteran that landed on Utah. This illustrates that the invasion was a multinational affair with unprecedented cooperation between the forces. 

The Arboretum is huge with memorials to nearly every branch of military service.

Even full with people as it was yesterday the Arboretum in a calm reflective sort of place and very moving indeed. 

Memorial to the Parachute Regiment. Not all of the memorials are as grand and large but all are unique to that service and many are inscribed with the names of the fallen. 

I was shaking hands all day but this gentlemen (Jack Farney)  so greatful he really made an impression on me. As I shook his hand he said "God bless you" and I had to reply "No, God bless you sir." I feel very strongly that it was thanks to amazing men like this - humble and self affacing to this day - that I and my children were able to grow up free. I doubt if I would have had their courage, but I am glad they did.  

Another incredible gentlemen, Alfred Booker RN. He served on the HMS Ramalles and said they were bombarding the Getrmans all day until some guns were so worn they needed to be replaced. 

At the end of the day we went back to our hotel for a wonderful meal and a sing-a-long. Don and Albert joined in and still have more vitality than men half their age (and they can still drink you under the me!)

These three days with the Veterans have been extraordinary, humbling and something I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life. I'm meeting them again in a few weeks to start the fundraising for next years trips, but I doubt if any of us will experience anything quite like the last few days again. 


  1. What an amazing day you had Lee. Those gentlemen went through so much and it wonderful to see their spirit burning so brightly. I hope they know how much we appreciate, admire and respect them and their comrades. I am quite sure you will never forget sharing yesterday with them.
    Best wishes,

  2. What a truly uplifting experience this must have been Lee. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful moments.

  3. Thanks to all those glorious men!
    Thanks Lee!

  4. What a special day for you to take part in the commemoration.


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