Normandy D-Day veterans hold last ever service in memory of those who fell on beaches 65 years ago

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By Lucy Ballinger

Some were able to march, others needed walking sticks or wheelchairs. But all held their heads high as they paraded proudly in Whitehall to remember their fallen comrades. Many of the veterans shed a tear yesterday as they attended the last memorial service the Normandy Veterans’ Association will organise in London.

     

Wreaths were laid at the Cenotaph in memory of those who died fighting beside them 65 years ago. Their standards were lowered as The Last Post was played, before a minute’s silence, and then raised during the Reveille.

But those former soldiers who did attend the final farewell yesterday did their colleagues proud.

This is the association’s last memorial service in London because of the age of veterans and their dwindling numbers.

Comedian Eddie Izzard, who gave a donation to help veterans travel to Normandy earlier this month for the 65th anniversary event, joined the parade and was among those who laid wreaths.

As the parade left Whitehall, gathered crowds clapped and cheered the veterans.

NVA national chaplain Rev Ken Ward said: ‘We can be thankful to God that we have lived all these years.

‘We will always remember the sacrifices that were made.’

The NVA’s national chairman Eddie Slater, 85, was an able seaman gunner in the Royal Navy on D-Day and was on a boat off the Normandy coast.

He said: ‘All of a sudden the horizon just filled up with boats.

‘The ship just went quiet. Nobody spoke for minutes. It was awe inspiring.’

Mr Slater, from Colchester, Essex, said today’s ceremony was about honouring those who did not come home and to say thank-you for those that did.

He added: ‘To get here at our age is unbelievable. We have got people from all over the UK. They keep coming.’

Mr Slater was among those who laid wreaths today but said it was a struggle as his eyesight is deteriorating due to macular degeneration.

He said: ‘I can remember when we had two wheelchairs, last year we had more than 18, this year we’ve had more.’

John Wintle, 85, from Caerphilly, South Wales, was tearful as he remembered former colleagues.

He said: ‘There was a lot of comradeship, friendship, but problems as well but you don’t tend to remember them.

‘When you go to the cemetery in Bayeux and see the thousands that are around there, you think "but for the grace of God I’d be there".

‘There would be no family, no grandchildren.

‘Today is about remembering those that didn’t come back.’

Mr Wintle said it was becoming increasingly difficult for the men to come to memorial events.

He added: ‘I’m 85 and I’m one of the younger ones. We are hoping the younger people will keep up the memorials.’

At the NVA’s service in Bayeux Cemetery on June 6, the 65th anniversary of D-Day, they asked army, air and sea cadets to promise to remember those who died.

The memorial earlier this month was expected to be the last formal service of its kind in the graveyard where many British servicemen are buried.

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