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”.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Arts and Entertainment
music
News
news

Sport
football

Follow the latest news and score as Chelsea take on Maribor at Stamford Bridge.

Life and Style
tech

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind"

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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album