Seventy years ago it was a killing field – a beach riddled with the spray of machine gun fire and the screams of the wounded.
Yesterday Sword beach was a sun-soaked international stage of commemoration, for a ceremony of dance and theatre attended by world leaders including the Queen, Barack Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin, who was booed by the crowds.
And for one of the veterans, Doug Parker, aged 91, from Owlthorpe, Sword beach is of vital significance – it was where he landed as an infantryman with the very first wave of assault troops at H-Hour on June 6, 1944.
He admits his life, and personality, have been defined by that day– ‘the longest day of my life’.
“I ran up the beach and saw machine gun bullets spraying the sand. I saw Corporal Wilkinson, a very nice corporal, not married that long, laid there badly wounded.
“He said, ‘Help me Doug’. I laid him down gently and told the stretcher-bearers, ‘Look after Wilkie’. I couldn’t stay with him. My objective was to make the beach safe for the thousands who landed after us. We were successful, but Wilkie died.”
Doug was one of just 10 of the last surviving South Yorkshire Normandy veterans who set off from Pond Street bus station at dawn on Tuesday to make their pilgrimage to France.
The visit has added poignance as the last major official remembrance of D-Day.
Later this year the Normandy Veterans’ Association officially disbands due to dwindling numbers.