D-Day 70: Wiltshire veterans receive heroes' welcome
Veterans Wally Beall, of Atworth, Doug Lakey, of Warminster, Bernard Howell, of Mere, Bob Conway, of Trowbridge, George French, of Swindon, Gordon Smith, of Newbury, and Bert Williams, from Calne
Ten Wiltshire veterans received a heroes’ welcome during a three-day trip to Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
The trip, organised by the Wiltshire Normandy Veterans Association, saw the group take part in several events broadcast on television throughout the world to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
The group included Ken Scott, 98, from Royal Wootton Bassett, Bob Conway, 88, from Trowbridge, Doug Lakey, from Warminster and Bert Williams, from Calne.
Mr Williams, 92, of Yew Tree Close, Calne, was a sergeant for the Royal Army Service Crops and served as a mechanic in General Montgomery’s personal HQ unit when the liberation of Europe took place.
He landed on Gold Beach on D-Day and was present at the signing of the armistice with Montgomery, at Luneburg Heath on May 4 1945.
He said: “When I look back, I didn’t realise what I did. Even today I just feel like an ordinary person, but I was one of the top men in the country.
“When I was in France someone said ‘I was talking to General Montgomery and he said you were the finest he ever had to get things done’.
“It’s different in France now, it’s a wonderful place. They are extremely friendly, everywhere we went they were saluting us.”
One of the highlights of the trip was a service at Bayeux Cathedral, when Doug Lakey, 94, of Warminster, read out the exultation before the Last Post was played.
Mr Williams’ wife Cynthia said: “Ed Miliband was with one of our veterans.
“They put all the House of Commons among us, where we were sat was only three rows from the front. David Cameron was right in front of us.”
Richard Palusinki, branch secretary for The Wiltshire Normandy Veterans Association, said: “We walked from the cathedral to the cemetery, that’s only three quarters of a mile.
“We put all the veterans in wheelchairs, although some of them insisted on walking, and pushed them up through the crowds lining the road.
“It was hard work not because they were heavy but because the crowds wanted to show their appreciation.
“The crowds just wanted to stop and shake their hands, there’s still a great affection for the veterans in France.
“While there were some pretty special moments I think for me the best moment was on Saturday when all the bigger moments were over and we took the guys along the beaches stopping at places that were meaningful to them.
“I think so many people realise that this is going to have to be the last major event for the veterans. It just struck me as we were going along in the coach and the cars coming alongside us had registration plates from all over Europe.”
Every surviving veteran has been invited to apply for France’s highest decoration, the Légion d'honneur, and one Wiltshire veteran received his Normandy.
Major Alan Graham, who lives near Pewsey, re-visited Normandy with his wife Mary to receive the medal.
He was just 19 when his unit, 3 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, 6th Airborne Division, parachuted in Normandy the night before Normandy.
Other veterans will receive their medals at a separate ceremony later in the year.