D-Day: This might be the last chance to say thank you to those who fought for freedom

Communities are coming together to pay tribute and remember the sacrifice of so many on the Normandy beaches 80 years ago. Ruby Kitchen reports.

A legacy of the D-Day generation lives on in the freedoms and democracy of society today, veterans’ leaders have said, honouring the bravery of the last few survivors.

June 6 is to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the largest seaborne invasion in history, which was to tip the course of the Second World War.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Philippa Rawlinson, director of remembrance for the Royal British Legion (RBL), has paid tribute to the honour and sacrifice of those who served as survivors from the region return to Normandy’s shores.

York's last remaining D-Day veteran Ken Cooke, looks at the 'Lighting Their Legacy' torch at Commonwealth War Graves site at Stonefall Cemetery in Harrogate, as the 80th anniversary gets closer,  photographed by Tony Johnson for The Yorkshire Post.York's last remaining D-Day veteran Ken Cooke, looks at the 'Lighting Their Legacy' torch at Commonwealth War Graves site at Stonefall Cemetery in Harrogate, as the 80th anniversary gets closer,  photographed by Tony Johnson for The Yorkshire Post.
York's last remaining D-Day veteran Ken Cooke, looks at the 'Lighting Their Legacy' torch at Commonwealth War Graves site at Stonefall Cemetery in Harrogate, as the 80th anniversary gets closer, photographed by Tony Johnson for The Yorkshire Post.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post ahead of special commemorations, she said: “It really matters. This is probably the last opportunity for us to say thank you to an incredible generation.

“We are really focused on making sure that the service and sacrifice of the D-Day generation is always remembered.

“Big anniversaries such as this are a real opportunity to bring people together. It’s thinking about those at home, those who prepared behind the scenes and those that took part, for an endeavour that was all about fighting for our freedoms.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It’s really important that we take a moment to stop and say thank you. We should be united in our Remembrance.”

This historic operation, in 1944, saw Allied Forces mount a vast large-scale invasion of Nazi-occupied France which was ultimately to mark the start of the liberation of Europe.

The Royal British Legion (RBL), with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), is to lead commemorations in coming days with a series of events across the UK and Normandy.

What’s more, they are to return with surviving veterans from Yorkshire - now approaching their own centenaries - to ensure they can pay a last tribute to their long lost comrades.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

For the 75th anniversary, five years ago, the RBL took 255 Normandy veterans to France on a specially chartered ship. This time, it is escorting just 23 veterans for the return, including two from Yorkshire.

A further 21 have registered to attend the RBL service at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Seven welfare staff from the RBL’s care homes will be among teams escorting them on the week-long trip, alongside nurses, carers, and a chosen companion.

Ms Rawlinson said more veterans are travelling with other charities, and family groups.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

What they are finding, she added, is that many survivors of the Second World War are speaking out now about their experiences for the very first time.

“I know of a Royal Marine who has only just started to share his story with his family,” she said. “People are sharing that legacy, before it’s too late.”

World leaders including the King, Queen and Prince of Wales are to gather in Normandy to mark this 80th anniversary of D-Day, honouring those who served for the liberation of Europe. This, said Ms Rawlinson, is a really powerful symbol.

“Many of us have family members who took part, and it sends a message to those who continue to serve,” she said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It is really poignant to stop and to reflect and to remember, and to say thank you. To celebrate the freedoms they fought for.

“The legacy, today, is that joint endeavour for the greater good. That is what they were doing 80 years ago today, preparing for this.

“When we think about the symbol of the Poppy, it does unite us together in Remembrance and with our Allies.”

xhead in here

Beacons are to be lit across the breadth of Yorkshire as communities come together in Remembrance to reflect on a moment in history.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Operation Overlord, known as D-Day, was the largest naval, air and land operation in history, with ships and landing craft setting down tens of thousands on Normandy’s shores.

Now, following a call from the nation’s pageantmaster, towns, villages and cities across the region are to fire a beacon to shine a light in the dark, as these men might once have done.

Communities, united as one, are to light the beacons at 9.15pm on June 6, with commitments already from Hessle Foreshore to Barnsley and the North York Moors.

To Goff Griffiths, president of Churchfield Royal British Legion (RBL), those who served did so with a bravery and fortitude that must be honoured.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But this may be the last anniversary, he said, that many survivors might see.

“So many friends were to lose their friends,” he said. “In the First World War, 60,000 were killed in one day. That’s a lot of ‘my best mates’ gone.

“This is remembering that sacrifice. It’s the sacrifice they made on our behalf.”

Communities are to come together to mark this 80th anniversary of D-Day on June 6. Early in the day, at 8am, Town Crier’ proclamations are to ring out across the region, from Ilkley to Otley, Filey, Helmsley, Halifax and Hebden Royd.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This is the call, from one community to its neighbour, to honour those lost and to pay tribute in Remembrance, and it will reach as far afield as Nova Scotia and Quebec.

The wording itself reflects on Operation Overlord, the Allies’ bitter fight for freedom, and calls on communities to “never forget” the “selfless sacrifice and courage” of all involved.

Then, with pageants and parades, there are to be services to remember the fallen.

And following the lighting of the beacons a Tribute, to be read from Lord Mayors to pub landlords, town criers or parish clerks, and all at the same time, has also been issued. It reads to remember those who gave their lives, for the peace and freedoms of today.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Churchfield RBL is among those to host events, with a gala at Mont Bretton Park on June 1. Then, on June 6, members will assemble at 10.30am at the war memorial and then the town hall, before Remembrance services at St Mary’s Church garden.

“My father’s brother was on the Somme,” said Mr Griffiths. “He survived but he could never talk about it. It destroyed him every time he started. He lost so many friends.

“It’s friendship. It’s comradeship, all the links that tie us together. It’s been 80 years since D-Day. How many veterans have we got left? How many will be here for 90 years?

“It’s very important that we show them our respect, for what they did and how they gave themselves to help us. Time passes, but it is important that we always remember.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, honouring the heroism of those who landed on the Normandy beaches, said they represented “a beacon of light” in a dark period of war.

It is fitting, he added, that communities from villages to towns and cities should set their own beacons to honour the “light of peace” they drew from a dreadful campaign.

Urging communities to back this event, he said: “As we look forward to the future, I believe we should take great strength from the shared hardship of our experience during World War ll. That future is why so many of our service men gave their lives - and protecting the peace they fought for is the greatest way we can honour those who fell.”

The first Service of Commemoration, at Bayeux War Cemetery on June 5, will focus on the personal experiences of the Normandy veterans in attendance.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

At the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, guests will include D-Day veterans and Second World War veterans, families of the fallen and their descendants.

Bayeux War Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 4,000 servicemen of the Normandy campaign.

Opposite the cemetery stands the Bayeux Memorial, which bears the names of more than 1,800 men and women of the Commonwealth land forces who have no known grave.

On the anniversary itself on June 6, services are to be livestreamed on the BBC from the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This national service of commemoration, with MPs and officials, will see the unveiling of a Legacies of D-Day Exhibition for the next three years. And in Staffordshire, at the National Memorial Arboretum, another service will also honour veterans, their families and descendants, unveiling its own Legacies exhibition.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.