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War heroes to get freedom of town

PUBLISHED: 06:19 19 November 2003 | UPDATED: 17:17 24 February 2010

By James Mortlock

NORMANDY veterans will be given the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of St Edmundsbury to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

By James Mortlock

NORMANDY veterans will be given the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of St Edmundsbury to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council agreed unanimously last night to back a proposal to confer the honour next year on the Bury St Edmunds branch of the Normandy Veterans' Association.

But it also felt consideration should be given to bestowing the Honorary Freedom of the Borough in 2005 to all veterans' associations to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

The honour was last conferred in 2000 to the American Third Air Force, with which the area has strong links because of its proximity to the military bases at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall.

The Suffolk Regiment and RAF Honington have also been granted the accolade, which allows units to march through the area with colours flying, drums beating and bayonets fixed.

Now the Normandy heroes will receive the honour at a special meeting of the council next June - close to the day in 1944 when thousands of Allied servicemen landed on Normandy's beaches to face the might of Hitler's forces in one of the bloodiest campaigns of the Second World War.

It will be the last significant opportunity many of the ageing veterans have to mark the D-Day landings, the biggest amphibious invasion ever.

Andrew Varley, deputy council leader, said it was right to confer the honour on the 60th anniversary.

“We felt it was a very appropriate time to honour the survivors. They are elderly men and we want to celebrate their bravery and their extraordinary achievements,” he added.

“That in no way diminishes the achievements of others during the war. But this is the 60th anniversary and it will the be the last significant anniversary many of the veterans will have the chance to commemorate.”

Tom Sharpley, chairman of the Bury St Edmunds branch of the veterans' association, said he was pleased with the honour.

“We want to make the most of it as many of us do not know how much longer we are going to be around,” he added.

“Memories of that day do begin to fade and sometimes you wonder if it really happened. But on June 6, or if a member of the association passes away, it all comes back as vividly as if it was yesterday. We all lost friends during the landings.”

Mr Sharpley was a corporal with the 41 Royal Marine Commandos when, three weeks short of his 22nd birthday, his 32-strong company leapt from their small assault vessels on to the Normandy beaches under enemy gunfire.

The 81-year-old, from Fornham St Martin, has backed the East Anglian Daily Times' Remember Our Heroes campaign calling for a nationwide day of commemoration next year.

“The world would have been very different today if it wasn't for the bravery of everybody involved in the D-Day landings,” he said.

“They should never be forgotten. I would like to see nationwide events to mark the anniversary, but as a commemoration, not a celebration.”

james.mortlock@eadt.co.uk

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