Hearing the voices of the D-Day veterans

Monday, 3rd June 2019, 05:00 am
Updated Monday, 3rd June 2019, 09:26 am
Written by The Royal British Legion

The Royal British Legion is at the heart of a national network that supports the Armed Forces community through thick and thin – ensuring their unique contribution is never forgotten.

It is the country’s largest Armed Forces charity, with 237,000 members, 120,000 volunteers and a network of partners and charities who help give support wherever and whenever it is needed.

The Legion, in partnership with the Ministry of Defence, will be leading the UK’s commemorations in France to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The events will be held at Bayeux Cathedral and the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, Bayeux. Portsmouth, where much of the landing force sailed from in 1944, will serve as the focal point of the Ministry of Defence led UK commemorations.

Those veterans unable to travel to Normandy will have a service of Remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

A ship has been chartered for up to 300 veterans who are able to travel to Normandy, departing from Dover on 2nd June. This voyage will take in the UK commemorative events in Portsmouth and Poole, before crossing the English Channel and arriving in Normandy on 6th June, exactly 75 years after the D-Day Landings.

Care and support for our Armed Forces community sit at the heart of the Legion’s purpose. To prepare for this voyage, up to 300 home visits have been carried out, to assess the fitness of those Normandy veterans who have applied.

Those able to participate will be collected from their homes. Once their voyage is complete, they will be returned home, with a follow-up visit to ensure their ongoing wellbeing. Professional support will be provided to every veteran during their time on the ship and on the road, journeying to and from each event.

The Legion has got to know the veterans well preparing for the trip. Every one of them had powerful recollections of their D-Day experiences. Here are just two.

D-Day veteran and Chelsea Pensioner George Skipper at the Royal British Legion's Southampton Pop in Centre for room naming after D-Day Heroes. Photo by Mark Allan

Veteran George Skipper landed on Gold Beach early on 6th June, jumping from his landing craft under relentless enemy fire. Two of the men alongside him landed in a submerged bomb crater and disappeared underwater, weighed down by their heavy kit. George managed to pull them both out of the water, saving their lives.

George’s unit was then pinned down on the beach by machine gun fire from two enemy pill boxes, which left several men from his unit killed or wounded. Eventually a path was cleared through a minefield, allowing George’s section to move off the beach.

George also helped drive the infantry towards the front line, enabling them to fight the enemy. His courage on that day and in the months that followed was recognised by the French government in 2015, when they awarded him their top military honour – the Legion d’Honneur.

D-Day veteran Ted Cordery.

Another veteran, Ted Cordery, was on board HMS Belfast as it supported the landings at Juno beach. The ship provided vital support and cover fire for the troops undertaking the initial landings.

“The sight of all those troops being lowered into the water from the ships, some you knew would never make it to land, was just astounding.

“It’s a memory that sticks with me – all those small boats full of men trying their best to get up onto the beaches and the sight of those that didn’t make it.”