Normandy veterans from across South Yorkshire are setting off tomorrow - with The Star at their side - on what could be their last ever pilgrimage to France to mark the anniversary of D-Day.
The Star’s Deputy News Editor Sarah Crabtree is joining the men of the Sheffield branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association for an emotional return trip to the beaches of northern France.
On Friday world leaders, heads of state and dignitaries including the Queen and Prince Philip, US President Barack Obama, Russian premier Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend an international ceremony of commemoration.
This Friday, June 6, is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings - one of the most pivotal points of World War Two.
But this year is likely to be the last time the anniversary will be commemorated on such a grand scale.
Already regional branches of the Normandy Veterans’ Association have started to disband, and the Sheffield branch is to wind down at the end of the year.
Eleven veterans - men now in their late 80s and early 90s - who, as strapping lads in their teens and twenties saw action in Normandy, are making the trip from Sheffield, some along with their families, aboard a specially chartered coach. They set off tomorrow morning from Pond Street bus station and are due to arrive in France late tomorrow evening.
One of the men, grandfather-of-five Doug Parker, aged 91, from Owlthorpe, who landed with the first wave of infantry at 7.25am on June 6, 1944, on Sword beach, said: “I don’t recognise myself as a war hero.
“The lads who got killed were the true heroes. I was just a lucky man.”
Another of the men, Charlie Hill, 89, from Gleadless, said: “I am just very pleased I am able to get back. I feel very lucky I’m just about fit enough - so many of our members have passed away in recent years.”
Charlie landed on Gold beach at ‘H-Hour’ on D-Day - the very first dawning moments of the infantry assault. The former Graves Park groundsman said: “You went from being a boy to a man that day. D-Day made everyone grow up very fast.”
This Friday marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day - June 6, 1944 - the most crucial and perilous point of World War Two.
Ten years ago, for the 60th anniversary, through a series of features and photographs, The Star’s Deputy News Editor Sarah Crabtree forged lasting friendships with the men of the Sheffield branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association.
Many of those men have since passed away, but some still remain - men in their late 80s and early 90s who are the last survivors of the most daring seaborne invasion in history.
Tomorrow 11 of the men - accompanied by Sarah, and their families and friends - are setting off again to France, on what is likely to be their last ever return pilgrimage to mark the anniversary of D-Day.
In the first of a week-long series of commemorative features to mark the anniversary, Sarah has spoken again to the surviving Sheffield heroes whose brave actions helped bring the Second World War to a close.