'˜Help us findÂ heroes of Normandy invasion, so Sheffield can say special thank you on 75th anniversary'
A mission is under way to track down as many Normandy veteransÂ as possibleÂ to join huge 75th anniversary commemorations planned in Sheffield.
The city wants to pay thanks in style next JuneÂ to those who liberated Europe by taking part in the D Day landings and the ensuing campaign during the summer of 1944.
Hundreds of people are expected to gather in Weston Park on June 15 next year to remember the brave souls involved inÂ whatÂ remainsÂ the largest amphibious invasion ever seen.
TheÂ Sheffield Normandy Veterans AssociationÂ is trying to trace survivorsÂ to take part in the parade that day, which could proveÂ a last hurrah for many of them as advancing years take their toll.
The group's secretary Graham Askham said: 'We're trying to make it a really special day for these chaps. It could be the last chance many of them get to parade in Sheffield, and we'd like to invite as many veterans as possible.
'We owe them for theÂ freedom we enjoy today, and which we too often take for granted. It's important we show our gratitude because without them the world could be a very different place.'
An oak tree commemorating those who served in theÂ Normandy campaignÂ was recently planted in Weston Park, where a memorial bench and stone dedicated to them is due to be unveiled as part of the ceremony next June.
A flypast is also planned, along with a reception at Firth Hall for Normandy veterans,Â and the association is hoping for a huge turnout by the public, cadets and veterans of other campaignsÂ to mark the occasion.
The invitation is not restricted to Normandy veterans from within Sheffield, with the association casting its net as wide as York andÂ Nottingham.
John Quinn, who lived on City Road, in Sheffield for most of his life,Â was part of an advance fleetÂ which cleared mines and obstructions guarding the coastline, enabling landing craft to reach the beaches on D-Day.
The horrors he and his comrades encountered remain undimmed in his memory.
'It was terrible what we experienced. We were the lucky ones because we survived butÂ nobody should ever forget those poor soldiers who never made it back,' said the 94-year-old former lorry driver, now living in Mablethorpe.
'There were 17, 18 and 19-year-olds who were shot down as soon as they set foot on the sand, and robbed of the chance to lead the lives they should have led.
'I feel very strongly that we must continue to remember and be thankful for the sacrifices they made to give people the freedom they continue to enjoy today.'
John is one of a select few British servicemen to have been awarded the Croix de Guerre '“Â France's highest military honour for bravery '“Â after risking his lifeÂ to rescue a boat-fullÂ of stranded French soldiersÂ while under heavy enemy fire.
But it is the eerieÂ atmosphere of the night he approached the French coast ahead of the D Day landings properÂ which sticks most strongly in his mind.
'We landed on June 5, five minutes before midnight, and we could hear the dogs barking, church bells ringing and the Germans talking as we got closer,' he said.
Gordon Drabble, president of the Sheffield Normandy Veterans Association, was part of a later wave of infantry which landed in France about 10 days after D-Day.
In typically understated style, he described the campaign as '˜hairy going', describing how he saw action on most days and was badly wounded when a piece of shrapnel pierced his shoulder during a mortar attack which killed a fellow soldier standing just yards away.
The 94-year-old former Cadbury's rep, of Lodge Moor, toldÂ how when the association launched in the early 80s it had 70 or 80 veterans among its members but there were now just 10.
'Sadly the numbers are dwindling and there probably won't be many veterans who are still able to attendÂ commemorations for the next big anniversary in 2024, so it would be nice to make this a big one,' he said.
'We'd like to have as many veterans as possible, whether they're members of the association or not.'
The D-Day landings of June 6, 1944, on France's northern coastÂ began the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe, but not all Normandy veterans took part in that initial invasion, with many arriving later to bolster the forces on their march to victory.
The commemorations in Sheffield will take place on June 15 soÂ veterans who are still able to can attend memorial events being held in France on the anniversary of D-Day itself.
For more information about the Sheffield commemorationsÂ and if you know a Normandy veteran who would like to be there, call Graham Askham on 0781 2682 040 or email [email protected]