D-Day ’75: Staffs heroes remember the Longest Day

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Thursday will mark 75 years since D-Day, the Allied forces’ invasion of Europe, which took place on June 6 1944.

Operation Overlord, which was one of the largest sea and airborne invasions ever was a monumental shift in the course of the Second World War, and the battles that took place in Normandy, France, are lodged in the memories of those who lived through it.

As we approach the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I feel like this is an opportune time to remember the sacrifices that were made on that fateful day, and during World War Two (WWII) as a whole.

With this in mind I travelled to Tri Services and Veterans Support Centre in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, hoping to gain some insight on the subject, from veterans themselves.

Tri Services and Veterans Support Centre, Newcastle-Under-Lyme

While there, I met Jim Wildes, a 95-year-old veteran, who was an aircraft technician for the RAF during WWII. Jim, while not a veteran of D-Day, served in the Pacific theatre and the Azores.

Sat in a small office, with his walking stick leant on his knee, he kindly spoke to me about his experiences.

He said: “One particular memory I have is that we had been brought back as a squadron from the Azores to St Eval in Cornwall and we operated from Brest to the Irish Sea, to keep subs out, doing 24-hour day flying.

 “On the night of the fifth I was on duty refueling aircraft and at about five in the morning on the sixth, about 250 American aircraft came over the end of Cornwall towards France.

“D-Day had started.”

Left to right: Jim Wildes, RAF aircraft technician WW2
Harry Gould, Royal Army Service Corps WW2 veteran
Daniel Harrison, Royal Pioneer Corps, WW2 veteran

Jim was later posted to the then Mingaladon airfield in 1945 to witness the Japanese surrender of all territories south of what is now Myanmar, and he returned home in 1946.

While at the centre, I also spoke to the people that volunteer there, most of them being veterans of the armed forces themselves. They believe it is extremely important that we remember the sacrifices that veterans like Jim and others made, while commemorating those who lost their lives during the global conflict.

Geoff Harriman (64), the chairman of the Tri Services and Veterans Support Centre served in the forces for 34 years and believes people must remember what happened.

He said: “Each area of the country has a dwindling number of D-Day and WWII veterans, so it’s about the whole nation remembering. These guys sacrificed a lot, and should be recognised.

“It’s vitally important that the young element of society today, do recognise what the older generation did during The Second World War.”

D-Day 75 commemorations began today (June 5) in Portsmouth, and was attended by a number of WWII veterans, Prime Minister Theresa May and American President Donald Trump.

During my conversation with Geoff, I asked him how he thought the remaining WWII veterans would be feeling as the anniversary approaches.

“We have veterans who at this very moment are in Normandy, and they will be paying respects to the friends that they lost.

“There is a big sense of pride, but also a profound sadness because they have lost friends and within the military community, when you make a friend, they are a friend for life.”

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