Lest we forget: The Normandy campaign 69 years on

On the 69th anniversary of D-Day, a new battle is being fought: to preserve the memories of those who were there, before it is too late and you can help

Share
Related Topics

An ageing band of brothers will gather in the largest British war cemetery in Normandy today. There will be only 80 veterans at the commemoration in Bayeux this year – the smallest annual pilgrimage since 156,000 Allied troops, including 61,000 British soldiers, stormed the D-Day beaches 69 years ago.

The youngest of the remaining Normandy veterans is now 87 years old. Many are over 90. The pivotal western European battle of the Second World War is about to pass, like the First World War, over the horizon of living memory.

Visit the Normandy Voices campaign page for a selection of video footage and interviews

The Normandy Veterans’ Association (NVA), the organisation for British survivors of D-Day and the 10 weeks of vicious fighting which followed, once had 14,000 members. At the 65th anniversary four years ago, there were 3,000 members still alive. There are now fewer than 600.

The Independent today announces an appeal by the NVA, to ensure that the voices of the remaining veterans – the survivors of the survivors – are not lost to future generations. Over the next 12 months, 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. The full interviews will be presented to a museum as a permanent archive of Normandy Voices (something that many people wish had been attempted in time for soldiers who fought in the First World War).

Five years ago, The Independent asked its readers to help Normandy veterans return in large numbers to the D-Day beaches for the 65th anniversary. Largely thanks to our readers’ generosity, the NVA raised the money it needed.

We are not repeating that appeal this year. The NVA has already been promised National Lottery funding to take members to Normandy next summer for what will be their “last patrol”. The association plans to accept its inevitable defeat by time and age and hang up  its banners after the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Instead, we are inviting Independent readers to support the NVA’s project to create a permanent archive of its members’ memories. The NVA hopes to raise £50,000 to cover the costs of the production company, and all help is welcome.

The production company will interview Normandy veterans from all over the UK. The raw footage will be edited, with additional commentary, to produce a DVD – or boxed set of DVDs – in time for the 70th anniversary.

The project is the “passionate hobby horse” of George Batts, the 87-year-old honorary general secretary of the NVA. Mr Batts came ashore on Gold Beach on 6 June 1944 as an 18-year-old Royal Engineer or “sapper”. He cleared mines before helping to build and maintain the artificial “Mulberry” harbour at Arromanches.

“Many of us were youngsters, only 18 or 19, but we grew up very quickly,” Mr Batts told The Independent. “There are 17,000 British servicemen buried in Normandy. Many of those are very young too. They never had a life. For their sake, as much as anything, I believe passionately that we should record for posterity what the survivors have to say.

“We must not repeat the mistake that was made with the First World War veterans, when no systematic  attempt was made to record their experiences until there was only a handful of them left.

“I go to schools and talk about D-Day and the Second World War. I always tell the children that it is important that you remember so that you don’t repeat our mistakes. You must never allow another world war.

“That is why it is important to record the memories of these old men. To remember their bravery, yes. But also as a warning.”

Andrew Elmslie, whose production company will film the interviews, has already recorded the memories of four members of the NVA Hackney branch in east London. Completion of the project depends on sufficient money being raised.

“We will ask each veteran to speak for about 10 minutes and to think out carefully what they intend to say in  advance,” Mr Elmslie said. “They will be asked to bring along their medals and any memorabilia they have.

“Unlike, say, a TV documentary production, we will not just keep the dramatic stuff, the gems, the acts of heroism, the storming of pillboxes single-handed. We will give a representative sample of veterans’ memories. We shall ask them to name and remember particular comrades that they lost.”

The resulting film will be presented to the veterans and sold to the public. All profits or surpluses will go to the Royal Star and Garter Homes, which provide nursing care for servicemen and women.

Not every minute of every interview can be included. That would amount to 2,000 minutes, or more than 33 hours, of film. It is the NVA’s intention to present the raw footage to a museum, possibly the Imperial War Museum or the Portsmouth D-Day Museum – to be  preserved for historians, and future generations, as a permanent treasury of Normandy Voices.

The three sets of reminiscences published here are the result of interviews conducted by The Independent. They are not part of the project, but give a flavour of the kind of memories it would preserve.

Day of destiny: Why it still matters

The largest invasion fleet ever assembled landed 156,000 Allied troops on five beach heads in Normandy 69 years ago.

Popular memory focuses on D-Day itself but the fighting continued until 19 August. Some of the close combat, in and around Caen, or at the foot of the Cotentin Peninsula, or in the Falaise pocket, was as murderous as anything on the Eastern Front.

After their defeat in Normandy, the German forces in Western Europe were so reduced that the American, British, Canadian, Polish and Free French armies advanced to capture Paris by 22 August and Brussels by 1 September.

Casualties on D-Day itself were lighter than Allied commanders had feared. It is estimated that about 4,400 Allied troops, airmen and sailors died on 6 June, of whom about 1,500 were British. There are 17,769 British war graves in the whole of the Normandy battle zone.

How important was the Battle of Normandy? Post-war Western histories played down the immense contribution of the Russians to the downfall of Nazism. It is equally wrong to dismiss, or marginalise, the importance of the Second Front opened on 6 June 1944.

Without D-Day, Adolf Hitler could have deployed many more divisions to resist the Red Army. He would have had more time to develop, and deploy, his modern weapon of terror, the V2 rocket. The war might have continued for many years.

At the very least, the Iron Curtain, which was established in central Europe in the late 1940s, might have been built 600 miles to the west – between Britain and the Continent.

John Lichfield

If you would like to support the NVA’s 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 pay directly into the following NatWest account: Normandy Veterans Association Overlord Productions; account number: 48090379; sort code: 60-60-08

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Performance Consultant Trainee

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Consultant trainee opportunit...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - (Full marketing mix) - Knutsford

£22000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Knu...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A picture posted by Lubitz to Facebook in February 2013  

Andreas Lubitz: Knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 enabled mass murder

Simon Calder
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, presides at the reinterment of Richard III yesterday  

Richard III: We Leicester folk have one question: how much did it all cost?

Sean O’Grady
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

The US is getting frayed at the edges

Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

Celebrating 100 years of Leica

A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world