D-Day 70th anniversary: ‘People ask if I was afraid. It’s a stupid question’

The Paras’ return to Normandy brought back chilling memories

Ranville

“During my lifetime, sir, I have never been terrified. I am a vicious little Scotsman,” said Jock Hutton after falling to earth from 6,000ft. The paras were back in Normandy, among them the 89-year-old veteran of D-Day.

Mr Hutton was responding to a question whether the parachute jump today was as terrifying as the one he had made 70 years ago when he was among the first wave coming in for days of fierce fighting. On that night flares were lighting them up as targets as machine gun fire rose from the ground. Many of his comrades were going to be killed in the next few days and he himself would suffer severe injuries, with shrapnel in his stomach.

On this occasion the former private had jumped in tandem with Colour Sergeant Billy Blanchard. Upon being congratulated by Prince Charles, he nodded: “Aye, there are not many of us left.” A few minutes later he ran into Ben Marsh, also 89, a fellow paratrooper with whom he had served in the  Ardennes and his voice went back deeper into his Stirlingshire roots: “Och ye old beast, I thought youse deid!”

This is probably the last gathering of the clan for the 650 from all three services who had travelled to France for the anniversary, almost all are now in their 80s and 90s. The numbers among the Parachute Regiment gets thinner every year with time, Private Hutton was the only one to carry out the jump this year, it was he said “just poetry, at my age one doesn't get much excitement, one must grab the chances one can.”

 

On Friday Vladimir Putin will be appearing in public with the leaders of the West for the first time since he annexed Crimea and amid continuing charges of his government orchestrating the destabilisation in eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad, the Kremlin's client, has declared himself the winner by a massive majority in the elections in Syria while his forces continue to make military gains.

For the veterans in Normandy, the sadness of losing friends and, sometimes, relations, was assuaged to an extent by fighting in a war which defeated the evils of Nazism. “We knew our mission, to liberate France”, said Mr Hutton. Cyril Cook, 91, a fellow member of the 12th Parachute Battalion, stated: “People often ask, 'weren't you afraid?' What a stupid question! Of course we were afraid, but it was job and you just got on with it and it was the right job to do.”

There was regret among a few that the sacrifices made to stop was not fully recognised back home. “One of the reasons it is wonderful to be here is because everyone is interested in you”, explained the 94-year-old who had served with the 51st Highland Division of the Scottish Horse Regiment. “Back home, nobody is interested in us. We're just old people, I am sometimes asked to go to schools to talk, but the children don't know about the war and don't want to know.” He had seen the full horrors of vicious fascism, being among the allied troops who discovered what was going on in Bergen Belsen.

As a young girl Arlette Gondree was in a cafe which became known as the first building in Normandy to be liberated by Allied troops. Standing beside some of the old soldiers at Pegasus Bridge she stressed today: “These are the real heroes, we owe so much to them here. We became a family then and we have remained a family.

“But this is certainly the last time: they have reached a certain age as I have. We don't know what the future will bring, but maybe we will meet each other again at another place at another time.”

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