THEY fought together, shoulder to shoulder, in one of the Second World War’s most momentous campaigns.
Yesterday, exactly 67 years on from D-Day, they stood shoulder to shoulder again in Sheffield, to remember lost comrades and look back on their parts in a turning point in world history.
Last surviving city veterans of the Normandy land ings - which began with D-Day on June 6, 1944 - gathered in Barker’s Pool for a parade, a short service, and a minute’s silence at 11am.
Today the former servicemen are silver-haired pensioners in their 80s, some with walking sticks, one in a wheelchair, all dressed in immaculate blazers decorated with medals.
Back in 1944 they were strapping young lads in their late teens and early 20s, innocent of the horrors about to engulf them on the beaches of northern France.
The haunting strains of a bugler’s Last Post echoed around Barker’s Pool as curious shoppers paused to watch standard bearers raise the colours of the Normandy Veterans’ Association. The minute’s silence was punctuated only by the splash of the water in the fountains and the throb of bus engines from Pinstone Street.
Bert Cooper, now 86, from Greystones, who read aloud the Normandy Prayer, was 19 when he landed on Gold beach at 7.25am on D-Day with the very first wave of assault troops. His main memory today is of the dead bodies on the shore, wafted in and out by the sea.
“Marking the anniversary of D-Day is important because we lost so many comrades - not just on the beaches, but in the years since, as they have passed away,” the former infantryman said.
“Remembrance is bred into all former soldiers. We might be old civilians now but our comradeship has lasted all these years. We are the lucky ones; we are still here.”
Bill Hartley, now 89, from Killamarsh, was 21 when he landed in Normandy the day after D-Day - ‘D+1’ - as a tank driver and radio operator with the Mobile Light Anti-Aircraft regiment.
He read aloud to the assembled veterans: “We meet here today to pay homage, to honour all our comrades who died in the Normandy campaign, and to take part in this service of remembrance on the 67th anniversary.
“With gratitude and respect we remember those who went to serve in Normandy but did not return.”
A poppy wreath was laid by Ken Riley from Burngreave, now 86, who landed on Juno beach as a 19-year-old radio operator two weeks after D-Day and was later injured by shellfire in France.
“We sincerely hope everybody who saw the service acknowledges and understands what it represents,” he said.
“This anniversary marks not just a day but a starting point in the whole shift of the Second World War.
“D-Day was when change started.”
Officer cadets from The University of Sheffield joined the ceremony which was watched over by Deputy Lord Mayor of Sheffield John Campbell.
Today the Sheffield branch of the veterans’ association numbers around 20 full members who took part in the Normandy campaign. Once there were more than 90.