Normandy Voices: Wartime voices will be rescued for posterity

Some of thinning ranks of D-Day soldiers remember stories that could be lost forever

Share
Related Topics

Nearly 70 years ago, Jim Ratcliffe and Anthony Colgan waded ashore side-by-side on D-Day with the Durham Light Infantry. This week, aged 90 and 89, they walked arm in arm through the war cemetery at Bayeux in Normandy, looking for the grave of their commanding officer (CO).

“He was a right tough so-and-so but a popular CO,” said Ratcliffe from Bolton, Lancashire. “He had a premonition that he was going to die. He was killed in mid-June 1944, near Tilly sur Seulle 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 – friends for seven decades – soon found the last resting place of Lt Colonel H.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 alive, compared to 14,000 a few years ago.

The Normandy Veterans’ Association this week launched an appeal, in The Independent, to ensure that the voices of the remaining veterans 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 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 that many people wish had been attempted in time for the soldiers who fought in World War One).

The initial reaction to the NVA appeal has been “excellent”, according to the association’s honorary secretary George Batts. Roughly £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.

A retired British diplomat, Alastair Dutch, is the voluntary executive producer of the project. “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 the 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 World War Two “forces’ sweetheart” Vera Lynn and the actor Robert Hardy (a frequent impersonator of Winston Churchill) to contribute to the DVD. The raw footage of the interviews of the veterans – at least 200 are expected to participate, maybe more – will be presented to the Imperial War Museum or the D-Day museum in 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, http://www.backtonormandy.org. He has also offered to compose, without charge, the music for the DVD.

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions