VIDEO: D-Day remembered in Sheffield

Sixty-nine years ago to the day, they were fighting shoulder to shoulder in World War Two on the beaches of northern France.

Almost seven decades on, Sheffield’s survivors of D-Day were shoulder to shoulder again in Barker’s Pool, a lone bugler playing the Last Post on the City Hall steps as the veterans remembered their fallen comrades from the Normandy campaign.

D Day Memorial  Service Sheffield

D Day Memorial Service Sheffield

Back then they were strapping young lads in their teens and early 20s.

Today they are old men, the strong hands that once wielded rifles and hand grenades now gnarled with age and gripping walking sticks.

But the memories of June 6, 1944, are undimmed - as is their shared determination to see the landmark 70th anniversary next year.

Albert Holmshaw, now 88, was a 19-year-old gunner from Jordanthorpe in 1944.

The day after D-Day - ‘D+1’ - he helped liberate the Normandy village of Périers-sur-le-Dan, and still receives an invitation from the French people each year to attend the hamlet’s liberation commemorations, and visit the graves of his friends.

“It is so important still to mark D-Day,” he said. “I think most days about the chaps we lost.

“I landed on Sword beach two hours after the first wave, and as our ship approached the shore the bow was pushing so many objects to one side - they were the dead bodies of the first lads. That brought it home to me.

“There are so many people today who don’t know what D-Day was, or they think they know from Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers and the other American stuff. They don’t know.

“I wear my medals on the anniversary not so people think, ‘Look at him, what a lot of medals he’s got’. I wear them for all the lads who were just as well entitled to them as I was, but who didn’t get to live the rest of their lives.”

The remembrance service was attended by new Lord Mayor Coun Vickie Priestley, who hosted a reception for the men in her Town Hall parlour afterwards.

Bill Hartley, 90, from Killamarsh, was among the veterans who spoke to the mayor about his experiences.

He had already served years in the desert at El Alamein and into Tunis before being brought back to England to be trained up for D-Day, and was 21 when he landed in Normandy the day after D-Day as a tank driver and radio operator.

“I was on board ship on June 6 waiting to get off, but we couldn’t get off until the following morning,” he said. “The next day we were dropped about half a mile out, and we were very frightened at the time.”

Bert Cooper, 88, from Greystones, was 19 when he landed on Gold beach on D-Day with the first wave of assault troops.

“It was hectic, there were dead all over the place,” he said. “I put four grenades in a gun emplacement on the beach, those Germans surrendered, and we moved off the beach. The prisoners we took we had lined up on the beach, and we couldn’t do anything for them, and the Germans were shelling us and them as well.

“We couldn’t put them anywhere, only sit them down on the beach, about 40 or 50 of them. What happened to them, how many survived, I don’t know.”

At the same moment Bert was struggling ashore at Gold beach, 21-year-old fellow infantryman Doug Parker was just along the coast at Sword beach, running with the East Yorkshire Regiment into heavy machine gun fire spraying bullets in the sand.

Now 90 and from Owlthorpe, he said: “We had a hell of a lot of casualties but our objective was to make the beach safe for the thousands of troops that were following us on. We had a lot of casualties but we achieved our objective.”

Ken Riley, chairman of the Sheffield branch of the Normandy Veterans’ Association, is 88 now and lives in Grimesthorpe.

He was 19 when he landed in Normandy nine days after D-Day with the Royal Armoured Corps.

“Remembering D-Day is not just the nostalgia of old soldiers remembering their exploits, or even honouring their fallen comrades who lost their lives in the service of their country,” he said.

“It’s about keeping in mind what we went to war for, what that meant then and what it still means now.”