Poignant service marks unveiling of memorial bench and tree in honour of Sheffield’s Normandy heroes

A poignant service marked the unveiling of a memorial bench and the planting of a magnificent oak tree in honour of Sheffield’s D-Day heroes.

By Lee Peace
Thursday, 06 June, 2019, 09:19

Civic leaders and military association representatives gathered in Weston Park to honour the city’s Normandy heroes who stormed the beaches of North West France on a mission to liberate the continent from Nazi tyranny.

The memorial bench.

The gathering observed a minute’s silence and wreaths were laid at 7.25am this morning – exactly 75 years since the first troops of a mighty Allied force of up to 156,000 men landed on the beaches under enemy fire.

Sand from the Juno, Sword and Gold beaches on which thousands of troops landed was symbolically put into the soil around the oak tree when it was first planted last summer.

Pat Davey, chair of the Sheffield and District Joint Council of Ex-Service Associations, read out the Normandy Prayer as the congregation stood in solemn contemplation.

Graham Askham, secretary of Normandy Veterans Sheffield and District, said: “It is important that we always remember what happened on D-Day.

Operation Overlord (The Normandy Landings): D-Day 6 June 1944, The British 2nd Army: second-wave troops of 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade, probably Highland Light Infantry of Canada, disembarking with bicycles from LCI(L)s (Landing Craft Infantry Large) onto 'Nan White' Beach, JUNO Area at Bernieres-sur-Mer, shortly before midday on 6 June 1944. (Photo by Canadian Official Photographer/ IWM via Getty Images)

“We would like this to be a lasting reminder for future generations of all those who took part in the Normandy campaign and what they did for us and the freedom that we have enjoyed since.”

He said it was impossible to quantify how many Sheffield soldiers took part in the Normandy invasion but added it was in the thousands.

None of the surviving veterans were at the event this morning but a contingent from Sheffield have made it over to France for commemorative events.

The gathering for the service.

Councillor Tony Downing, the new lord mayor of Sheffield, said: “We should always be in awe of what they did and should never forget.

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“As time goes on I think it is really important that children are taught in schools in particular about what happened in Normandy.”

Sheffield is gearing up for a huge day of commemorative events on Saturday, June 15.

About 3,000 people are expected to attend, which are being held nine days after the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings so veterans can also join the memorial events taking place in France on and around the day itself.

Pat Davey lays a wreath at the tree.

There will be a ceremony in Norfolk Heritage Park in which veterans are expected to get there from around 11.15am.

The band is set to strike up at midday, before dignitaries begin arriving from about 12.15pm.

The memorial service is expected to get underway at around 12.40pm.

A Lancaster bomber is due to arrive at 1.32pm and make three passes, though the exact timing is dependent on weather conditions.

The ceremony is due to take place at the top end of the park, near the Guildford Avenue entrance, and people are asked to walk or travel by public transport where possible as parking restrictions will be in place.

Graham Askham at the tree and plaque.

Veterans, their families and other guests will then head off to the University of Sheffield’s Firth Court building for a private reception.