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D-Day for veterans

A HARDY band of D-Day veterans is heading to France to mark the 65th anniversary on Saturday of the Normandy landings.

Former servicemen now in their 80s were young men in their early 20s when they took part in the most crucial and pivotal assault of the Second World War.

The invasion of Normandy, dubbed Operation Neptune, began with D-Day itself on June 6, 1944, and ended on June 30, 1944.

Those making the trip from South Yorkshire to France this year include members of the Sheffield branch of the Normandy Veterans' Association - men like Bert Cooper from Greystones, Gordon Drabble of Lodge Moor, and Charlie Hill of Gleadless, all aged 84, and 85-year-old Don Walker from Dore.

They will sail from Portsmouth to Caen and visit towns and villages around the Normandy region where they were engaged in battles and lost countless comrades.

The main commemorative events will be on Saturday, exactly 65 years to the day since the bloody landings on the Normandy beaches. Eight hundred British veterans are expected in Normandy to gather to pay their respects.

The main memorial event will be at the Arromanches landing beaches, where thousands of troops poured ashore, and a Royal British Legion Service of Remembrance will be held at Bayeux Cathedral.

Gordon said: "We wanted to go as a group but as it is several of us will be on different coaches to make the journey over there. We intend to meet up to attend the various different events."

The commemorative event has been controversial in its planning.

Some Sheffield veterans say they wanted to attend but had to withdraw their names from the list after the Government was too slow in confirming funds to help with travel costs. When financial help was finally agreed, many veterans found it was too late as seats on coaches and rooms in French hotels had been booked up for many months.

And not one member of the Royal Family will be present at the anniversary commemorations, after the French authorities failed to issue an invitation to the Queen.

In Harwich, Essex, the only surviving Landing Barge Kitchen - a supplies vessel laden with food for the troops and moored in the English Channel - will go on display on Saturday. Among those to have served on 'LBK6' is Les Hinchliffe, now 84, of Gaunt Road, Gleadless, Sheffield. He was 19 when he set sail for Normandy on the morning of D-Day with the Royal Navy.

n A HANDFUL of veterans are planning their own moments of quiet reflection this Saturday, at the cenotaph in Barker's Pool, Sheffield. Ex-servicemen will pay their own personal respects at the war memorial outside City Hall for a minute's silence at 11am.

The official service of D-Day remembrance will be held on Friday June 12, to allow any veterans and their families who will be in France on June 6 to attend. The Lord Mayor will be there, and a bugler will play the Last Post. All members of the public are welcome.

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