IT has taken eight decades but the last D-Day battle has finally been won.
More than 22,000 men and women gave their lives in the battle of Normandy, which began 77 years ago tomorrow.
But for more than half a century, their comrades who came home have been campaigning for a British memorial in northern France to remember those who gave their lives.
Tomorrow, on the anniversary of D-Day when 4,300 died in the opening hours of the invasion, 110 veterans will watch the unveiling of the British Normandy Memorial.
Carved into it will be the names of every serviceman and woman, aged from 16 to 64, who died in northern France.
Because of Covid restrictions the veterans, who are now all well into their 90s, cannot go to Ver-sur-Mer, near Arromanches, on the Normandy coast.
Instead, the survivors and 170 descendants of the dead will attend a special ceremony at National Memorial Arboretum in Burton-on-Trent, Staffs, where the official opening will be broadcast live from France.
Among them will be Bernard Morgan who, at 20, was the youngest RAF sergeant to go ashore on D-Day with 483 Group Control Centre.
Now 97, he says: “I was one of the lucky ones to survive. Waiting on our landing ship tank, I was in charge of a bren gun for two hours under a hail of shells.
“I lost three wireless operators in Normandy — two were 19 and one was 20.
“I pray I will live long enough to go to France one more time to see their names on the walls at the British memorial.”
Bernard was a cypher operator with a mobile unit that followed the front line in a Bedford truck, sending signals to air crew attacking fleeing German units. And 77 years on, Bernard is still haunted by the horrors of D-Day.
He says: “There were hundreds of bodies on the beach. It was the first time I’d seen a dead body.”
On July 14, his pal Aircraftman 1st Class John Baines, 21, was killed by friendly fire.
A week later Leading Aircraftman Paul Langstaff, 20, and Robert Hall, 22, died in an air attack on their truck.
Bernard will remember them tomorrow when he reads from Stephen Ambrose’s book D-Day and tells the ceremony: “They were the soldiers of democracy.”
Prince Charles, royal patron of the £30million appeal, will also send a video message to the event, organised by the Royal British Legion.
The stunning Normandy memorial, made from 3,700 tonnes of stone, is built on 50 acres of land.
Its 160 pillars list the name of every fatality in the order they fell during the battle, which lasted from June 6 until late August 1944.
Near a statue of soldiers storming the beach, an inscription on a 7ft-high stone wall reads: “They died so that Europe might be free.”
Incredibly, Britain, which sent 160,000 men to Normandy, was the only country among the Allies not to have a national memorial in France.
George Batts, an 18-year-old Sapper on D-Day, who became national secretary of the Normandy Veterans Association, said: “We lost a lot of our mates on those beaches.
“Now, at long last, Britain has a fitting memorial to them.”
Broadcaster Nicholas Witchell, co-founder of the Normandy Memorial Trust, said: “This memorial will stand as a reminder to future generations of the sacrifice made by British forces in Normandy.”
British Ambassador to France, Lord Edward Llewellyn, will lead the official opening in France.
Coverage, including the Royal British Legion’s service of remembrance at The Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, will be live-streamed on the British Normandy Memorial and Royal British Legion websites, as well as on Sky News and BBC News 24.
Memorial in numbers
- 22,442 names, listed by date of death
- 160 pillars
- 50 acre site
- £30m cost
- 700m from Gold Beach
- 3,700 tonnes of stone
- 7m height of walls in memorial courtyard
Lost siblings still so close
BROTHERS Robert and Joseph Casson are buried side by side at Ryes War Cemetery in Normandy.
But their names are carved yards apart on the British Normandy Memorial’s 160 stone pillars.
That is because the names of all 22,442 men and women who died in the liberation of northern France appear in the order of their deaths.
Royal Marine commando Robert Casson never made it ashore — he was shot dead on a landing craft as it approached Juno Beach on June 6, 1944.
Robert, 25, from York, was buried at sea but his body was later washed ashore at St Aubin-sur-Mer.
His brother Joseph landed on Gold Beach with comrades from the Durham Light Infantry but was wounded on June 21 at Tilly-sur-Seulles.
Private Casson, 18, died from his wounds six days later.
Their mother Mary requested that the brothers be buried alongside each other.
Battered pic of tragic dad
THE name Thomas Warby is carved on the memorial pillar for July 27.
The Royal Artillery gunner landed on June 10 and fought from the beachhead through the battle of Caen before he was killed by a mortar bomb at Herouville.
After his death at 27, a battered photo of the proud dad was found in his tunic.
It had been taken in the garden of his London home shortly before D-Day, and is now displayed at the memorial.
His son Tom Clitherow Warby, of Chorley, Lancs, who was just 15 months old when his dad was killed, says: “My father held me in his arms when I was one year old — the last time he was at home on leave.
“The whole family were devastated by his death.
"A widow at 28, my mother mourned him until she died and my grandmother died of a broken heart soon after his loss had been confirmed.”
By Leo Docherty, Veterans’ Minister
THEY are the Greatest Generation and today’s young soldiers, sailors and aircrew rightly look up to our D-Day veterans with awe and respect.
When our Armed Forces lead the commemorations at the National Memorial Arboretum on Sunday, they will be well aware of the path forged for them by the veterans of Normandy.
In fact, all of us must remember the role those who served on D-Day played in writing the story of our nation.
It was a pivotal operation in the fight against the Nazis and the protection of the values we stand for today.
On the morning of 6 June 1944 hundreds of thousands of men bravely set out to protect our nation, not knowing if they would survive.
We are a people committed to freedom and democracy, fierce in the face of tyranny and proud to stand up for our allies.
And it’s thanks to them that Europe has enjoyed widespread peace and freedom in the decades since.
Seventy-seven years on from D-Day, our Armed Forces continue to serve around the world to defend the values of our greatest generation.
The British Normandy Memorial will stand as a fitting tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, to honour those veterans who are still with us today and give thanks to all those who served.
- LEO DOCHERTY, Tory MP for Aldershot, is Minister for Defence People & Veterans
Vet Gilbert's scooter joy
A WORLD War Two veteran left stranded has a new set of wheels, thanks to The Sun.
Former technician Gilbert Clarke, 95, fixed radars and fighter planes after making the hazardous 4,500-mile sea crossing from his native Jamaica to the UK to join the RAF.
But he faced being wheeled around at a remembrance service after retailer Argos would not replace his faulty £550 mobility scooter.
The Sun stepped in to reveal his plight yesterday — and store execs pulled strings to get the great-great-grandad an upgraded model.
Gilbert said: “It’s marvellous. Thank you to The Sun. Fingers crossed this one works.”
His son Alan said: “Argos were caught in the middle of a dispute with the manufacturer.
“We don’t blame them — during the war, things were made to last.”
Cabbies have volunteered to drive Gilbert from his East London home to the National Memorial Arboretum in Burton-on-Trent, Staffs for a D-Day service.
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