Advertising guru steps in to help D-Day heroes return to Normandy

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The Independent Online

The frenetic and fashionable world of advertising may seem far removed from the struggles of the elderly veterans of D-Day – but one of Britain's most successful media and marketing gurus has brought them a step closer together.

Trevor Beattie, who runs the BMB agency in London, learnt from yesterday's Independent that many old soldiers cannot afford to travel to next year's 65th anniversary commemoration of the Normandy landings. He was so touched by their plight that he is offering to pay the travel costs of all those from the West Midlands, where he was born and raised, who want to return to the beaches. He hopes his initiative will be matched by benefactors from other parts of the country, enabling scores of veterans to pay homage to their fallen comrades, perhaps for the last time.

Mr Beattie's grandfather, Joseph Page, fought in the First World War and his great-uncle, Alfred Toombs, was at Normandy in 1944. He feels that their sacrifices, and those of others like them, must never be forgotten.

"I had originally thought about going for this year's anniversary but then I thought I might be taking up the place of one of the veterans," Mr Beattie said. "Then I saw the piece in The Independent and felt it was simply not right that they should miss out on this next year. This is very much something which was part of their lives, and I am just doing a little bit to help. I don't know how much it will cost but whether it is £10,000 or £30,000, I will pay it.

"I cannot afford to pay for all the veterans around the country but I am sure there will be others who will do their bit."

Mr Beattie's advertising career has attracted controversy as well as praise and success. His "Hello Boys" campaign for Wonderbra and "FCUK" advertisements for French Connection were accused of being prurient.

His life, he admits, is very different from those of his grandfather and great-uncle."I would not pretend to know what it is like to be in battle but I do know of the bravery and losses involved," said Mr Beattie, 49.

"My great-uncle died at the age of 90 a couple of years ago and I know how the war marked him. We used to talk to him about his experiences and what he went through was very, very tough. But it is also the elderly who are the most generous. They are the ones who always give from their pensions, sometimes when they are hard-up themselves, to charities. I don't want that to happen this time.

"I also hope The Independent article was read by young people because it was a fine and moving piece of journalism. Even if these young people cannot afford to donate anything themselves, they will perhaps learn a bit more about another generation who gave so much for us.

"I grew up in a working-class family in Birmingham. My parents lived through the Second World War, so I was aware of what happened, aware of what the fascists did. These are things we should remember."

Although the Government gave veterans a grant so they could attend the 60th anniversary in 2004, there is no such funding available next year. It will probably be the last time that old soldiers who took part in the landings and the subsequent liberation of Europe will be able to gather in numbers.

The Normandy Veterans Association has launched an appeal to raise £300,000 to help members get to France next June. Send donations to: National Treasurer, The Normandy Veterans Association, 1 Chervilles, Barming, Kent, ME16 9JE.