Emotional trip to D-Day beaches for Peterborough veterans and family members

On the evening of June 6, 1944, an armada of 6,500 ships, boats and landing craft left the ports and harbours of southern England to begin the liberation of occupied Europe.

Thursday, 6th June 2019, 1:01 am
Ann Howard and Winifred Davis laying a wreath at Juno Beach on behalf of the Peterborough Normandy Veterans Association

Today marks 75 years since that historic moment, and in order to gain a greater understanding of the terrifying journey made by so many, last month 38 residents from in and around Peterborough embarked on their own voyage to the five D-Day beaches.

The trip, called ‘From Peterborough to Pegasus Bridge’ – the first site to be liberated – included relatives of D-Day participants and current and former serving members of the Armed Forces.

As trip co-ordinator Bryan Tyler said: “The one thing we had in common, we all wanted to remember the bravery of those 156,000 young men who fought and, in some cases fell, on June 6, 1944.”

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The group at Pegasus Bridge

The trip was organised by Bryan, David Wait and John and Judy Fox – founder members of Supporting Peterborough Veterans – and sponsored in part by grants from City College Peterborough and trustees of Buckles Solicitors.

For Winifred Davis the trip had a special meaning as her late husband William had served as a signalman on HMS Gozo, the sixth minesweeping flotilla. She said: “I thought it would be interesting for me. I have always taken an interest in what happened at Normandy. This trip to me was a real eye-opener.

“When I visited the cemeteries what grabbed me was what went on for the country to survive. The whole trip was impressive, and after all the years it was very poignant when we walked around.”

Former marine Jem Hills, who served for 20 years in the Special Boat Service, said: “As a former veteran involved in several wars and conflicts, to see what they’ve been through – it’s very sombre.

“We went to one of the graveyards and you see the reality of what happened. When you see how many people were killed that day, it’s really poignant. The ages were 22, 21, 18. You can’t comprehend what they were thinking about on those beaches. They must have been petrified as they’d only done basic training.

“Every school in the UK should take their pupils there.”

The tour began at Pegasus Bridge where the visitors heard how, under the command of Major John Howard, Bénouville (now Pegasus) and Ranville (Horsa) bridges were taken in just 10 minutes. Among the many visits was one to the village where Hollywood film star Lt Richard Todd, a future resident of Deeping St James, and one of his men mouseholed their way through a row of terraced cottages until they could see a nest of snipers in the steeple of Le Port church, who they wiped out.

At Juno Beach Ann Howard laid a wreath on behalf of the Peterborough Normandy Veterans Association, while Ann and Bob Armstrong laid a wreath at the Bayeux War Cemetery to remember the fallen from the Royal Engineers.

Among those on the trip was Colin Rusdale whose dad and four brothers from Fletton all served. Two of Colin’s uncles were wounded in battle and two died.

An eight page D-Day supplement can be bought with the latest edition of the Peterborough Telegraph, which is out today (Thursday).