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

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

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star