D-Day 2021: Preston veterans mark 77th anniversary of Normandy Landings as British-Normandy memorial opens
Three Normandy veterans from Preston attended a major memorial event in Staffordshire to mark the 77th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy during WW2.
A memorial honouring the soldiers who died under British command on D-Day - and in the fighting that followed - has been unveiled in France on the 77th anniversary of the Normandy landings today (June 6).
It stands overlooking Gold Beach, one of the two beaches where British forces landed on June 6, 1944 (D-Day) and records the names of the 22,442 men and women who lost their lives in Normandy between June 6 and August 31, 1944.
It cost £30m and was designed by British architect Liam O'Connor.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, the men watched a live screening of the unveiling at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire with around 100 other veterans.
The event included a live broadcast of the official opening, coverage of the Royal British Legion's annual service of Remembrance in Bayeux War Cemetery, and a two-minute silence at 11am.
Colonel David Waters, President of the Preston and District Veterans Council, joined the men, as did Colonel Bernard Stam, former President of the Council.
Col Waters said: "It was excellent. The technology worked perfectly, and even though the memorial was on a big screen you could still tell it's impressive. They were overwhelmed with it.
"It was a very moving occasion and it was really well planned. We do these things well when we put our minds to it.
"To put the icing on the cake, the new Minister for Veterans Leo Docherty asked to meet the Preston veterans, so we had our pictures taken with him and he came and talked to them all.
"It was quite something."
The men were picked up on Friday morning (June 4) in an executive coach laid on by Walton's Coaches of Freckleton before being given a luxury packed lunch courtesy of Honeywell's Farm Shop in Woodplumpton.
Their three day trip and hotel stay has been paid for by Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, a London-based charity run by taxi driving volunteers, which usually offers international trips to Holland, Belgium and France, day trips to concerts or museums, transport to attend fundraising events, as well as special days out to catch up with friends and comrades.
"They've met other people of the same age group with the same experiences and banter, and they're all so humble about it," Col Waters added.
"They've thoroughly enjoyed it, they really have."
One of the men who was too unwell to travel watched the screening at home.
The others were Stuart Taylor, a RAF veteran from Penwortham, Ken Benbow, a Navy veteran from Kirkham, and Paddy Cawley, a Navy veteran from Fulwood.
The Royal British Legion's assistant director for commemorative events, Bob Gamble, said: "D-Day remains one of the most remarkable Allied wartime operations in history, and it is our great privilege to have brought so many of our Normandy veterans and their family members together to mark the 77th anniversary of the landings.
"It remains as important as ever for us to remember and pay tribute to the immense bravery and sacrifice shown by all who served and fell during the Battle of Normandy."
The veterans who travelled to the Memorial:
Ken Benbow, Royal Navy, Kirkham:
Ken was born in 1926. At 17 ½ years of age, he left Oswestry and entered the Navy and after a period of basic training he served on HMS Crane, a British built corvette escorting convoys in the Atlantic in the 7th Hunter Group, facing the danger of the hidden enemy – the German submarines attacking in 'wolf packs'; it was sink or be sunk. They operated out of their home base of Greenock in Scotland.
On D-Day he protected allied ships, landing craft and troops landing on the beaches of Normandy.
Then they moved on to the Pacific where the Crane supported the American landings at Okinawaand faced the kamikazes, the suicidal Japanese pilots who pressed home their attacks with deadly effect. On the 2nd September 1945 the Crane was in Tokyo Bay to witness the Japanese Emperor signing the unconditional surrender although Ken was more interested in escorting four hospital ships that were entering the harbour to take home prisoners of war.
After the war Ken married, settled in Garstang and had two children. Ken was recently widowed and now lives just outside Kirkham.
He is Preston's celebrity veteran having appeared on TV several times including sharing the screen with Joanna Lumley on the VJ Day commemoration last year.
Paddy Cawley, Royal Navy, Fulwood:
Born in County Tipperary in 1924, Paddy came to England in 1940 to be a Christian brother but decided it wasn't for him and before he knew it, following training, he was a wireless operator at a shore station in Bermuda.
After six months he replaced a sick wireless operator on HMS Dominica, an American built lease-lend ship, which was on its way to Greenock in Scotland.
Paddy on board was to become part of the 2nd Hunter Group playing cat-and-mouse with German u-boats, never realising Ken Benbow was riding the same waves protecting other convoys and ensuring essential supplies got through to Britain.
The Dominica took part in the D-day landings, patrolling between Lands End and Cap Gris Nez, preventing German attacks by sea and air on the allied armada liberating France.
In May 1945 the Dominica was off the coast of Northern Ireland collecting, disarming and escorting German submarines which were surrendering into Lough Foyle, Londonderry.
Paddy was demobbed in 1946 and joined the newly formed Palestinian Police Force before moving back to London in 1948 where met his wife, an Irish girl from Galway. He soon moved up to Preston where his brother had settled, raised two children, finally retiring in 1989. Paddy has recently been widowed and now lives in Fulwood.
Stuart Taylor, RAF, Penwortham:
Stuart was born in 1923. After passing his school certificate and attending Lancaster Royal Grammar School, he volunteered for the RAF in 1941 as a bright 18 year old and was selected for air crew.
He was trained in Canada and eventually became a co-pilot on a Dakota, the legendary transport aircraft.
In June 1944 Stuart was operating in Scotland but it wasn't long before he was drawn into the fray. In September 1944 he was involved in the advance to Arnhem of ‘A Bridge Too Far’
fame where Stuart was flying in troops, ammunition, food, fuel and mail and returning with wounded tended by a nurse who was on board.
In December 1944 Stuart was caught up in the 'Ardennes offensive', the last major German offensive campaign also known as the 'Battle of the Bulge.' It was the last desperate throw of the dice by the German forces.
Stuart flew American troops into France from Swindon in an attempt to bolster the withdrawing American troops who had been taken by surprise by the speed and ferocity of the German counter-offensive.
Stuart was on honeymoon in Chester when the atom bomb was dropped and shortly after flew out to the Far East where he spent the next 12 months flying troops around Burma, Borneo, Sumatra and Java.
Stuart first met his future wife in 1937 when King George 6th visited Lancaster. Stuart was dressed as a serf and Kathleen was a 'serfess' – they were 14 years old and they ‘surfed’ for the next seventy years celebrating their platinum wedding anniversary in August 2015.
Stuart had a long career as a primary school teacher and became head at a school in Walton-le Dale. Sadly, he has been recently widowed.
Stuart laid the wreath at last year's VJ Day service in Preston cemetery.
In June 1944, the largest seaborne invasion force in history set sail for France on a mission to liberate western Europe.
Nearly 160,000 men from Britain, the Commonwealth and North America landed on the beaches of Normandy.
This year's commemorations will recognise this historic achievement and salute the bravery and sacrifice of all those who contributed to Operation Overlord, which ultimately led to the liberation of France and Allied victory in Europe.
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