Veterans march onwards to a special date in 2014

Derek James pays tribute to the Norwich branch of the Normandy Veterans Association

In the week we remember the horrors of the Holocaust I would like to honour a group of elderly gentlemen we have so much to thank for... and they are still on the march.

They are members of the Norwich branch of the Normandy Veterans Association, who are now looking towards 2014.

That year will mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and our veterans are determined to play a leading role in special events across the channel.

It had been thought that the 65th anniversary in 2009 would have been the last one for the veterans but the Norwich boys are made of stronger stuff.

'We will carry on marching to the 70th. Most of us will make the journey,' insisted Jack Woods, secretary and treasurer of what is one of the most highly respected branches in the country.

It was a privilege for me, along with my wife Bridgette and daughter Verity, to be invited to join the veterans for lunch recently and spend some time in their company. I know that the scars they suffered, both physical and mental, running up those blood-soaked beaches all those years ago will never heal completely.

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The branch wasn't formed until just over 30 years ago when it was the third one to be enrolled as part of the then newly formed Normandy Veterans Association.

It started with a handful of men in the bar at the Royal British Legion in the city. Since then more than 800 members of one type or another have joined its ranks and it now has about 280 members, roughly an even divide between veterans and associates.

'The success of our decision to carry on to the 70th anniversary will fall heavily upon the associate members who are enrolled from interested parties, enthusiasts, younger people, children and grandchildren of members,' said Jack.

Was this the right decision to make?

What about those who will have passed on, those not well enough to travel?

'For this reason the branch is treating each year as a special year when every effort will be made to encourage veterans to look forward positively to the future,' he explained.

'Most will make the journey,' said Jack.

And he is right.

The Norwich branch is alive, vibrant and well equipped for the future... the march to the 70th anniversary already under way.