Sheffield D-Day ceremony: Lest we forget the sacrifice they made

Normandy Veterans Association D Day service'Tribute on the poppy wreath
Normandy Veterans Association D Day service'Tribute on the poppy wreath
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SIXTY-EIGHT years have passed since they fought together shoulder to shoulder on the beaches of Normandy in northern France.

Almost seven decades on, Sheffield’s survivors of the D-Day campaign stood together shoulder to shoulder again - for a minute’s silence in Barker’s Pool.

Fifteen veterans - all elderly men now in their late 80s, dressed in blazers decorated with medals - bowed their heads for an immaculately-observed minute’s silence at the foot of the city centre war memorial.

Shoppers stopped to pay their respects as a bugler on the steps of Sheffield City Hall played the haunting strains of the Last Post.

A poppy wreath was laid by Bert Cooper, aged 87, from Greystones, the exhortation of remembrance was read by Gordon Drabble, also 87, from Lodge Moor, and the Normandy Prayer was read aloud by Bill Hartley, 89, from Killamarsh.

Back in June 1944 all the men were strapping young lads in their teens and early 20s, innocent of the horrors of war about to engulf them on the Normandy beaches.

Ken Riley, now 87, from Burngreave, landed on Juno beach as a 19-year-old radio operator two weeks after D-Day, and was later injured by shellfire in France.

He said: “It may be 68 years since the landings on the beaches, but to us it’s more than just ‘history’.

“We lost a lot of comrades and friends - young lads who never got to grow up to be old men as we are now.

“That’s what we remember - the dead heroes we knew, who fought for their country and didn’t come out of it alive.”

Afterwards, for the first time after the remembrance ceremony, the veterans and their wives were invited back to the Town Hall for tea and coffee in the splendid surroundings of the Lord Mayor’s Parlour.

Lord Mayor Coun John Campbell told the assembled veterans: “This Town Hall doesn’t belong to the councillors and it doesn’t belong to the Lord Mayor. This Town Hall is yours, it is the people’s, and it is a pleasure to welcome you here.

“If it wasn’t for the commitment of people like you during World War Two, perhaps we would not have the freedom of speech we have today.”

Don Walker, aged 88, from Abbeydale, was among the veterans who shared their memories with the mayor.

Don was 20 when he arrived in Normandy just after D-Day. Three weeks later his tank was blown up, killing the other men inside.

He was captured by the Germans, transported under armed guard from one farmhouse or stables to another, before being loaded for a full month into a crowded cattle wagon which took him to the Stalag 4B camp near Leipzig.

Recalling to the mayor his 10 months as a prisoner of war, Don remembered: “I spent my 21st birthday in there - not something to be recommended.

“We were made to work all hours every day in a brick factory. All we were given to eat was one small cup of red cabbage a day.”