Remembering the Normandy veterans
Derek JamesEvery year there are fewer of them but those left are determined to carry on...honouring and remembering fallen heroes.More than 40 members of the Norwich Normandy Veterans Association, now in their late 80s and early 90s, accompanied by family and friends, left yesterday for France where they will be among the VIPs to commemorate the 66th anniversary of D-Day.Derek James
Every year there are fewer of them but those left are determined to carry on...honouring and remembering fallen heroes.
More than 40 members of the Norwich Normandy Veterans Association, now in their late 80s and early 90s, accompanied by family and friends, left yesterday for France where they will be among the VIPs to commemorate the 66th anniversary of D-Day.
'It is important that we keep going for as long as possible,' said branch secretary Jack Woods, who at 86 is the youngest member of the group.
He and his comrades were among the tens of thousands of men, including members of the Royal Norfolk Regiment, who stormed the beaches before fighting their way across Europe and into Germany.
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So many of their brothers-in-arms were killed and are buried in the cemeteries. They are the ones who will remembered over the next few days - the soldiers who never came home.
'We owe it to them to keep returning,' said Mr Woods, a former member of the Tank Regiment, who has now devoted his life into running what is regarded as one of the most successful and highly respected branches of the NVA which looks after its members across Norwich and Norfolk.
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During the pilgrimage the men will attend a host of events and services to mark the anniversary and will also visit the famous Pegasus Bridge, one of the first places to be liberated in June of 1944.
This year is the start of a project named the March to the 70th Anniversary when the veterans are planning to return for what will almost certainly be the last time.
'That is the next big celebration of the liberation of Normandy. That is what we are working towards,' said Mr Woods.
He stressed that for as long as possible the veterans would continue to return.
'For a tourist to be able to talk to a veteran is a big plus. They are living history. The only people who can tell them exactly what it was like on the ground during the period June 6 to August 21, 1944,' he added.
'At the same time their personal feelings have to be taken into consideration. Mostly they will return to Normandy because of their experiences they will never forget.' he said.
'As well as keeping faith with fallen comrades, they tend to suffer what is commonly known as 'guilt of survival'. Talking about their experiences can be good therapy for them as well as good information for tourists and especially, school groups,' said Mr Woods.
And, as numbers dwindle, he called on all the ex-service organisations along with the tourist industry to get together to make sure as veterans got the support and help needed so they can continue to return to Normandy for as long as possible.