'The real heroes are still there' - D-Day veteran's poignant tribute to fallen friends as bells toll to mark Armistice Day across Yorkshire

Heads were bowed in silent prayer at the fading cry of a bugle’s call and as the nation paused to honour its war dead.

There was a two-minute silence across the land at 11am to mark Armistice in 1918, made on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and signalling an end to four long years of war.

As the closing notes of the Last Post played a hushed silence fell at memorials and churches nationwide as veterans and serving soldiers remembered those who lost their lives, alongside those they left behind.

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York D-Day veterans: 'The real heroes are still in Normandy'
Act of Remembrance held at the North Eastern Railway War Memorial in York. Pictured Ken Cooke, aged 96, of York, one of Yorkshire's few remaining Normandy war veterans stands in remembrance to his fallen colleagues. Writer: James Hardisty

To York’s Ken Cooke, a D-Day veteran aged 96 who laid at wreath at York’s Railway Memorial, it marked a particularly poignant note. This was a moment to remember his “pals”, he said. Those he had joined up with in December 1943, trained with in Richmond in North Yorkshire, and played football with as a boy.

“I lost them, in France,” he said. “As an 18-year-old it had seemed just an adventure to me, I think it did to most of the lads. Until the following day, when we realised our friends were missing.”

Mr Cooke, a father and grandfather of two, was a Rowntrees’ Factory worker whose company had landed to a barrage of bullets on Gold Beach on one of the bloodiest day of the Second World War.

Among the second wave of soldiers to fight their way to shore, he said they had been unprepared for what was to come: “Those bullets coming towards us, suddenly we realised they were real bullets.”

Armistice Day two minutes silence at the Cenotaph in Leeds. 11 November 2021. Picture Bruce Rollinson

'The heroes are still there'

He laid a wreath last year as most memorial services were suspended under the pandemic.

“There was nobody there, just a half dozen people,” he said. “This year there was a lot of people, and a lot of wreathes were laid. It means a lot to me.

“I was very lucky,” he added. “My friends, my pals, they didn’t come back. People say to me ‘you’re a hero’. I say ‘no, I’m not. The heroes are still there’.”

Kirsty Dennett, York Minster Chaplain, holds the wreath from the Yorkshire Regiment. Writer: James Hardisty

As today marked 102 years since the first Armistice Day, November 11 1919, the Duchess of Cornwall was in attendance at Westminster Abbey’s Field of Remembrance as the chimes of Big Ben rang out.

York Minster was brought to a standstill for prayers before it’s biggest bell, Great Peter, tolled the hour to mark a silence of commemoration.

'For freedom and liberty'

Veterans gathered at Leeds’ war memorial for prayers to honour the service and sacrifice of those who died for “freedom and liberty”, while at At Catterick Garrison, wreaths were laid in a poignant ceremony.

Act of Remembrance held at the North Eastern Railway War Memorial in York. Image: James Hardisty

Lt Col Jonathan Huxley, commanding officer of the Infantry Training Centre (ITC), said it was significant for recruits, as they started their careers, for serving officers who had lost friends in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for civilian staff who have helped train generations of infantry soldiers.

“It was particularly poignant this year,” he said. “The withdrawal from Afghanistan has for many led to reflections on their time there. It’s important for us to acknowledge that element of our recent history as well.”

In Staffordshire, a service of remembrance took place at the National Memorial Arboretum on top of the Armed Forces Memorial, featuring readings and musical performances.

'We will remember'

Chairman David Whimpenny, trustee of the Royal British Legion, read a short extract from Laurence Binyon’s Ode of Remembrance before wreaths were laid by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucestershire.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,” he read. “At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.”

Soldiers at the Infantry Training Centre at Vimy Barracks at Catterick Garrison mark Armistice Day Picture Tony Johnson

Around 200 veterans and family members attended the service at the memorial, which bears the names of more than 16,000 service personnel killed in the line of duty since the end of the Second World War.

Among them was Defence Minister Baroness Goldie, who quoted John Maxwell Edmonds as she paid tribute to soldiers lost in all wars.

Reading from his works, she said: “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow we gave our today.”

Services

Remembrance services this weekend are to see dozens of commemorations across the region, with Deputy Lieutenants to attend more than 45 services in North Yorkshire alone.

The Queen’s representative for the county, Lord Lieutenant Johanna Ropner, said this year is important as it marks a centenary since the foundation of the Royal British Legion.

“For the past 100 years they have worked tirelessly for our veterans, serving personnel and their families, and carrying the responsibility throughout all those years in keeping Remembrance alive,” she said. “Their motto is ‘service before self’. That is something we can all believe in.”

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The Commandant of the School of Infantry College Andy Hadfield lays a wreath at the Infantry Training Centre at Vimy Barracks at Catterick Garrison mark Armistice Day Picture Tony Johnson
Soldiers at the Infantry Training Centre at Catterick Garrison mark Armistice Day Picture Tony Johnson
Soldiers at the Infantry Training Centre at Catterick Garrison mark Armistice Day Picture Tony Johnson
A piper plays at the Infantry Training Centre as Catterick Garrison marks Armistice Day Picture Tony Johnson
Armistice Day two minutes silence at the Cenotaph in Leeds. 11 November 2021. Picture Bruce Rollinson