Last Normandy veterans mark comrades’ loss

John Lichfield hears some of thinning ranks of D-Day soldiers remember stories that could be lost forever

On D-Day in June 1944, Jim Ratcliffe and Anthony Colgan waded ashore side-by-side with the Durham Light Infantry. This week, aged 90 and 89, respectively, they walked arm-in-arm through the British war cemetery at Bayeux in Normandy, looking for the grave of their commanding officer.

“He was a right tough so-and-so but a popular CO,” said Mr Ratcliffe from Bolton. “He had a premonition he was going to die. He was killed in mid-June 1944, near Tilly-sur-Seulles when we lost 200 men in a couple of days. Tilly changed hands 20 times before we finally held on to it.”

Jim and Anthony soon found the last resting place of Lt-Col Humphrey R Woods among the 4,144 British graves at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Bayeux. His gravestone reads “Killed 14 June 1944. Aged 28.”

At the D-Day commemorations in Normandy this week, remembrance of young comrades killed nearly 70 years ago blended with a new, but resigned, sadness at the rapid erosion of the ranks of the old survivors.

“My own branch of the Normandy Veterans Association (NVA) has closed because there are hardly any of us left alive,” said Mr Colgan, from Knutsford, Cheshire. “There are many, many old friends who are not here in Normandy this year. It is like losing comrades in battle all over again. But at least the death of old men is the way things are supposed to be.”

Only 600 members of the NVA are still alive, compared with 14,000 a few years ago. This week, it launched an appeal, through The Independent, to ensure the voices of remaining veterans are not lost to future generations. Over the next year, if enough money can be raised, all British Normandy veterans will be asked to give filmed interviews of their memories. The footage will be edited into a DVD, or series of DVDs, which will form their last testament in time for the 70th anniversary of D-Day on 6 June 2014. The full interviews will be presented to a museum to form a permanent archive of Normandy voices – something many people wish had been attempted in time for soldiers who fought in the First World War. The initial reaction to the NVA appeal has been excellent, according to the association’s honorary secretary George Batts. About £50,000 is needed to pay the costs of filming and editing the memories of the remaining veterans. Details of how to make a contribution can be found below.

Alastair Dutch, a retired diplomat, is the voluntary executive producer. “The plan is to make the DVD tell a story, starting with the training in Britain, the crossing of the Channel and then the invasion itself and the fighting which followed,” he said. “We will edit interviews to fit the narrative and intercut them with footage from the time and the peaceful Normandy of today.”

Mr Dutch plans to ask the Second World War “forces’ sweetheart” Dame Vera Lynn and the actor Robert Hardy (who frequently plays Winston Churchill) to contribute to the DVD. The raw footage of the interviews with the veterans – at least 200 are expected to participate, maybe more – will be presented to the Imperial War Museum or the D-Day museum, Portsmouth.

The project has already attracted support from abroad. Fred Vogels, a Dutch composer, is appealing for contributions on his website devoted to D-Day, backtonormandy.org. He has also offered to compose the music for the DVD free of charge.

To support the appeal, send a cheque to George Batts, national secretary/treasurer, NVA, 1 Chervilles, Barming, Maidstone, Kent, ME16 9JE with “NVA Overlord Productions” as the payee. Or make payments directly to NatWest account number 48090379; sort code: 60-60-08; account name: “Normandy Veterans Association Overlord Productions”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable