D-Day veterans gather to mark storming of beaches

Veterans commemorate D-Day at Ashfield District Council
Veterans commemorate D-Day at Ashfield District Council

Four of Ashfield’s D-Day veterans marked the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings by attending a special afternoon tea hosted by the chairman of the council.

Reginald Hewitt, 93, a Corporal in the Artillery Service Corps, and 90-year-old George Durant, who served in the Marines, both of Kirkby-in-Ashfield, attended with Bill Hill, 93, of Selston who was a gunner in the navy and signalman Eddie Wilbraham, 94, of Jacksdale.

Eddie was sent to Gold Beach in Normandy and remembered arriving there in the dark.

“We’d been waiting in an encampment in Thetford for a few days, and then were put on a lorry to the coast,” he said.

“I can clearly remember that there was a heavy swell when we landed in France and it was very difficult to get off the boat.”

Reg Hewitt was sent to Sword Beach and said that although it was very frightening he could feel there was a sense of everyone working towards a turning point in the war.

“I’ve spent a long time thinking about my old pals today – the ones who didn’t come back. It was very frightening, but you could tell there was a turning point coming.”

George Durant, who served in the Marines, experienced Sword and Juno beach.

“At first we all thought it was a practice,” he said, “but we very soon realised that it was the real thing. It was alarming – you could tell that there was something major taking place.”

“Anniversaries like this bring back a lot of memories. I lost a lot of comrades. We were on a landing craft, and some many were killed, shelled at sea.”

The youngest member of the group at 88, Eric Stone, served in the Navy and was sent to Sword beach. “I remember being on the landing craft with 12 comrades and all I could think was will any of us go home. It was the early hours of the morning and the noise was unbearable. At that time I did not think I was going to survive.”

Councillor Elizabeth Mays said: “It is a great honour for us to be able to offer this small gesture of thanks to these men for all they did for us seventy years ago.

“I am truly proud to meet them and hear of their experiences.”

Leader of the Council coun Chris Baron said: “It is a great privilege for me, as an ex-serviceman, to acknowledge these men’s loyalty and bravery and to welcome them as guests of the Council on this great occasion.”