The Last Goodbye

By Becky Hallewellin NormandyTHE D-Day veterans knew it was probably the last time they could pay tribute in person to their comrades who sacrificed their lives on the beaches of Normandy.

By Becky Hallewell

in Normandy

THE D-Day veterans knew it was probably the last time they could pay tribute in person to their comrades who sacrificed their lives on the beaches of Normandy.

Despite their advancing age, there were determined to make the trip from East Anglia for an emotional commemoration of the selfless bravery of the soldiers who were killed while trying to liberate France.

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As they stood proudly, medals gleaming, at remembrance ceremonies across Normandy at the weekend, their thoughts turned to their fallen colleagues.

Rifleman Len Northwood was only 16 years old when he joined the Army – and experienced warfare for the first time at the D-Day landings.

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Now aged 77, the former member of the 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles returned to Normandy determined to pay tribute to the comrades who never came back.

“It gets emotional as you get nearer to France. You start remembering the people who are lost and your emotion starts to go a bit,” said Mr Northwood, from West Mersea.

“But we're also celebrating the fact we've all survived. It was our big day on June 6. The fact that we've all got here – we're also celebrating that.”

Mr Northwood was attending a ceremony for Normandy veterans in Colleville-Montgomery, not far from the beach on which he landed 60 years ago.

“It was my first taste of action and it was frightening and noisy. Everyone was sick. You were glad just to get off the landing craft onto Sword Beach,” he recalled.

“I drove a Bren gun carrier off the landing craft, towing a six-pounder anti-tank gun, and we finished up in Bremen at the end of the war.

Mr Northwood was keen that future generations should not forget what he and his fellow soldiers had endured in liberating France from the control of Nazi Germany and has talked to schoolchildren of his experiences.

“Everybody gave, everybody sacrificed. But it was those who made the ultimate sacrifice. We didn't do that – it was those that died,” he said.

Len Devine also came to Normandy to commemorate the friends that never returned home from the D-Day landings.

Although glad to be back among old comrades at a ceremony in Colleville-Montgomery at the weekend, the feelings of sadness for those that were lost have never diminished.

“It's sad. The feelings get stronger – it's even sadder today. I'm here for the comradeship, but also to remember those not here to enjoy it,” said Mr Devine, of Roy Avenue, Ipswich.

The former private with 162 Independent Infantry Brigade landed on Gold beach on June 22, 1944, and supported the infantry right up to their arrival in Cologne, Germany.

Now aged 83, this was Mr Devine's third visit to Normandy and it was clear to him the ranks of veterans were getting thinner. “It's obviously going to be the last one – we're all getting older,” he said

A firefighter for 25 years following the war, Mr Devine has often asked himself why so many people had suffered.

“What good did we do? There had to be a reason for it – we started to liberate the concentration camps. I'd like people to remember we started the end of the war that liberated the Jews,” he said.

“I don't think any of us talk about it. Nobody could understand it unless they were actually there – but we did our little bit. I always hoped there would be no more war.”

D-Day veteran JW North never returned to Normandy after the war ended and hardly even spoke about his ordeal on the beaches of France before he died last year.

Sixty years on his son David, from Herringswell, near Mildenhall, made the trip to Normandy, determined to touch the sands where his father had disembarked.

“I've got his cap badge and dog tags. I touched them down on the beach where he landed,” he said.

“It was weird because he couldn't do it himself, so it's the first time in 60 years that they've been there.

“I'd worked out where he came up. I thought I'd see what it was like standing on a beach with everything flying at you, but couldn't really imagine it.

“Most people can run 200 yards, but if it might be the last thing you do, it's a bit different.”

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