"Proud Preston and proud veterans": Second World War veterans prepare to mark 77th anniversary of D-day
Three Normandy veterans will be setting off from Preston tomorrow for a special event to mark the 77th anniversary of D-Day.
On Sunday, the £30m British Normandy Memorial will be officially unveiled in Ver-sur-Mer, France.
It stands overlooking Gold Beach, one of the two beaches where British forces landed on June 6, 1944 (D-Day) and records the names more than 22,000 men and women under British command who lost their lives in Normandy between June 6 and August 31, 1944.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, the men cannot travel to France for the ceremony, as was originally planned, but instead, will be escorted to a screening of the unveiling at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire with around 40 other veterans.
The event will include 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, will be heading to the service on Sunday to join the men, as will Colonel Bernard Stam, former President of the Council.
Col Waters said: "Unfortunately the veterans can't travel to France and time is against us - we can't wait another year to do this.
"So, instead, there's going to be a giant screen up at the National Memorial and a service there before lunch with all the celebrities."
The men are being picked up tomorrow morning in an executive coach laid on by Walton's Coaches of Freckleton before they head to pick up 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're really looking after our fellas", said Col Waters.
Members of staff from the Lancashire Vaccination Centre have also provided goody bags with care essentials such as sunscreen and lip balm.
One of the men who intended to go is now too unwell to travel, and so will watch the screening at home.
The others are Stuart Taylor, a RAF veteran from Penwortham, Ken Benbow, a Navy veteran from Kirkham, and Paddy Cawley, a Navy veteran from Fulwood.
Mr Taylor, a former Dakota pilot, will be meeting up with another Dakota pilot on the day, and Mr Benbow and Mr Crawley will get chance to discuss how their paths unknowingly crossed when they were part of the same Atlantic convoy.
"It will be emotional, I'm sure", said Col Waters.
"And it's so impressive that such as large number from Preston are going. We're certainly holding our end up.
"Proud Preston and proud veterans":
The veterans travelling to the Memorial:
Ken Benbow, Royal Navy, Kirkham:
Ken was born in 1926. A t 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 Okinowa and 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.