Ban on D-Day hero fuels acrimony (CORRECTED)
Thursday 28 April 1994
MAJOR John Howard, who became one of the best-known heroes of the D-Day landings in Normandy when he led the storming of Pegasus Bridge, has been banned from the nearby cafe which he liberated.
His offences are to disagree with the owner about the future of the bridge and then to return to the cafe, the first building in France liberated by the Allies, with a team of German journalists.
Madame Arlette Gondree- Pritchett, whose parents ran the cafe when Major Howard and his men captured it in a glider-borne assault, was furious, claiming her mother had told her never to let Germans in there again. She reduced Major Howard to tears, later accused him of being senile, and has thrown him out several times since. Major Howard was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Croix de Guerre for gallantry.
They had already disagreed over the future of the original bridge, which was removed last year because it could not carry modern lorries. Madame Gondree-Pritchett wants it to be taken to England while Major Howard and other veterans want it to stay in France.
Now airborne forces veterans are threatening to boycott the cafe during the ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of the invasion on 6 June 1944. One of the biggest events will be a parachute drop by 1,000 British, French and Canadian troops at Pegasus Bridge.
The incident adds to the acrimony surrounding the D-Day anniversary. There have been rows about whether the Germans should be allowed to take part and criticism from veterans about the Government's plans to mark the event.
Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Gray, chairman of the Airborne Assault Normandy Trust, said yesterday: 'She has been very rude to him. This whole business is so stupid and it is not the sort of thing the veterans wanted at such a time.'
Major Howard, whose bravery was immortalised in the film, The Longest Day, has written to Madame Gondree-Pritchett asking for an apology but she has not replied. He said: 'It is just Arlette. If she climbed off her high horse everything would be all right.'
Veterans of the Normandy campaign were confident yesterday that they have won their campaign to have the more frivolous elements of the D-Day plans scrapped.
But, after a meeting with Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for National Heritage, they accepted that the main event, a family day planned to take place in Hyde Park, London, on 3 July, will go ahead with some alterations.
Final agreement between the two main veterans' organisations involved and the Government, which has been seriously embarrassed by the row, will probably be reached at another meeting next week.
Before then the Royal British Legion, and the 10,000 strong Normandy Veterans' Association, will consult their members, some of whom still want to see the scrapping of the entire programme devised by the Department of National Heritage.
Major John Howard has asked us to point out that, contrary to our report on 28 April, he has not been banned from entering the cafe at Pegasus Bridge in Normandy. Major Howard led the glider-borne force which captured the bridge on D-Day in 1944.
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