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Portrait of a Veteran

This kindly chap is one of around 60 reasons why things have been a little quiet around here over the last few months…

portrait of a war veteran

In early June I was involved in a mission to take 60 WWII veterans back to Normandy to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. It was D-Day Revisited‘s 6th pilgrimage to Normandy and as always months of work went into putting the trip together. However as many of you will have seen in the press at the time, this was no ordinary event and consequently took an extraordinary amount of organising. I’m pleased to say though that it was mission accomplished and all 112 people in the group arrived home tired but happy and well on the 9th of June after an unforgettable week!

This is Lance holding a photograph of himself as a young lad taken during the war around 70 years ago. In October 1942 a 16 year old Lance lied about his age to join the Royal Ulster Rifles. Two years later, having been posted to the 6th Airborne Divisional HQ Defence Platoon, he found himself jumping out of an aeroplane into nazi-occupied France in the early hours of D-Day.  A navigation error meant he landed miles away from his drop zone. In an effort to work out what to do next he accidentally got involved in the crucial airborne attack on Merville Gun Battery; part of Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” of defence which could have seriously threatened the British seaborne landings on Sword Beach.  The battle was successful and the paratroopers disarmed the Battery, no doubt saving hundreds if not thousands of british lives.

Every year Lance guides me to the same spot in Ranville Cemetery and tells me the story of his Commanding Officer, a W. J. Cunnigham who died 17th June 1944.  This man was 32 and by far one of the oldest soldiers buried in the packed out cemetery.  “A gentleman lies there.  A good soldier.” he said in June this year.  “I’m 88 now and these lads are still the same age as they were when they fell in battle. But they did their best.  I’m sure if he could speak now he’d say he had no regrets; he did what he had to do.”

Lance went on to take part in the Ardennes, the Rhine Crossing where he was Mentioned in Despatches and the subsequent pursuit across Germany.  Once the war was over, he served a year in Palestine before being demobbed and returning home.  Later he was lucky enough to marry the love of his life, Greta, who still accompanies him to Normandy each year.

Captured on Kodak Portra Film

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