PreviousNext

Battle of Normandy: Witness by witness, memories of the D-Day landings are preserved

By // News | Breaking News | Battle of Normandy: Witness by witness, memories of the D-Day landings are preserved
Email to a friend Plain text Print version // Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font

An unprecedented D-Day film archive is taking shape, thanks, in part, to the generosity of readers of The Independent.

Over the summer, a dwindling band of British men and women started recording for posterity the part that they played, large or small, in the battle of Normandy 70 years ago next year.

In some cases, the veterans, now mostly in their nineties, have never before spoken publicly of their harrowing memories of 6 June 1944 or the 10 weeks of bloody fighting that followed.

Three months ago, The Independent publicised an appeal on behalf of the Normandy Veterans’ Association (NVA) to ensure that the voices of as many remaining veterans as possible – the survivors among the survivors – were not lost to future generations.

The appeal brought a generous response. As a result, 60 of the 150 interviews originally envisaged by the NVA have already been recorded. The D-Day Museum in Portsmouth has agreed to create a permanent archive of the footage, which could now run to 100 hours or more of film.

So many veterans have come forward – some of whom had never joined the NVA or previously given interviews  – that the project is growing. If sufficient money is raised, it is hoped that at least 200 interviews will be recorded before next June.

There is no precedent for an attempt to record the memories of such a wide cross-section of British veterans – ranging from soldiers who saw their comrades blown apart on D-Day  to a woman who took part in a front-line “concert party” in Normandy with the entertainer George Formby. 

Strong support has been given to the idea by the new  Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton.

“I would urge all with an interest in the Normandy campaign to support this project to ensure that the memories of those who took part in the events which changed the course of history are preserved for future generations,” Sir Nicholas said.

The project is the “passionate hobby-horse” of  George Batts, the 87-year-old honorary  secretary of the NVA. Mr Batts came ashore on Gold Beach on 6 June 1944 as an 18-year-old “sapper” in the Royal Engineers. He cleared mines before helping to build and maintain the artificial “Mulberry” harbour at Arromanches.

“I can’t say how touched and delighted I have been by the response, both from those who have sent money and from the many veterans who have contacted me wanting to tell their story,” Mr Batts said. “I couldn’t have hoped for better. I wanted to avoid what happened with First World War veterans when no systematic attempt was made to record their memories until there were hardly any left.”

Like the 1914-18 war, the pivotal Western European battle of the Second World War is about to pass over the horizon of living memory.  The Normandy Veterans’ Association once had 14,000 members. At the 65th anniversary of D-Day four years ago, there were 3,000 alive. There are now fewer than 600, with an average age of 92.

The NVA has been promised Lottery funding to take members to Normandy next summer for what will be their “last patrol”. The association  has accepted its inevitable defeat by time and age, and plans to hang up its banners after the 70th anniversary commemoration

The “Normandy Voices” project is to be the association’s swan-song. An edited version of the filmed interviews will be made into a series of DVDs and given to remaining veterans and their families. Plans to sell the DVDs commercially have been dropped as impractical.

The D-Day Museum in Portsmouth has agreed enthusiastically to create a permanent home for the footage in which each veteran will record his or her memories for an average of 30 minutes. Dr Jane Mee, director of the D-Day Project at Portsmouth, said she was “delighted” to be offered such an “invaluable” archive. The intention is to preserve the first-hand accounts  as a resource for school parties, descendants of veterans and future historians.

The executive producer of the project, Alastair Dutch, a retired diplomat, said: “Some of the veterans have never given interviews before. They had always preferred, until now, to keep their memories to themselves.

“I think they grasped the value of this project and wanted to record their experiences before it was too late. Some of the accounts of D-Day itself, of the sea and beach covered with blood and body-parts, are extremely graphic and disturbing.”

Those interviewed so far also include sailors from the invasion force, a nurse who came ashore on 7 June and a woman who entertained troops at a concert party whose star act was the singer and comedian George Formby.

The NVA appealed originally for £50,000 to cover the costs of the production company which is already interviewing Normandy veterans in groups throughout the UK. That target has not yet been reached. A little extra will now be needed to reach all the veterans who have come forward.

Tagged : No tags for this article

Headlines Newsview all

Amanda Holden at the centre of Twitter backlash as she sends daughter to school dressed as Pretty Woman prostitute for fancy dress day

A parenting group has slammed TV star Amanda Holden for posting a picture of her nine-year-old daughter 'dressed as a prostitute' online.The Britain's Got Talent ... Full story

Grandmother filmed confronting militants and branding them 'devils' before quoting verses in the Koran that forbid slaughter

An incredible video has emerged showing the moment an elderly woman bravely confronted two Islamic State militants, telling them their terror group is cursed and ... Full story

Jobseeker shocked to be sent rudest rejection email ever calling him an 'old, aesthetically challenged professional pr*** with no teeth'

A jobseeker was shocked after he was branded as 'irritating', 'rude' and 'obnoxious' in a cutting email accidentally sent to him by a prospective employer.James ... Full story

Youngsters turning their backs on binge drinking with 40% surge in teetotal teens and students

Teenagers and young adults are turning their backs on binge drinking, dramatic new figures have revealed.The proportion of teetotal 16-to-24 year olds has rocketed by ... Full story

Talented 18-year-old pianist who had won a place at Cambridge University was killed by a train after suffering a lapse into deep depression

A gifted 18-year-old pupil who had won a place at Cambridge University was killed by a train after suffering a lapse into 'deep depression', his ... Full story

Former PE teacher, 91, becomes oldest person ever sent to prison for the first time after being found guilty of string of sex attacks on boys

A 91-year-old former teacher has become the oldest person to be sent to prison for the first time after he was jailed for carrying out ... Full story

Beauty therapist who posted dozens of weight loss selfies showing off her new slim figure on Facebook is reported for encouraging nudity

A beauty therapist who posted dozens of 'selfie' pictures of her new slimline figure on Facebook said she was shocked and upset after being reported ... Full story

Parents slam former Ofsted boss Zenna Atkins who is now chair of school governors over x-rated messages she posted on public Facebook page

Parents have slammed a former Ofsted chief who is now chairman of a school's governing board over x-rated messages she posted on Facebook.Zenna Atkins, who ... Full story

Taxpayers forked out £2,300 a month for council boss on £195,000 a year salary to drive luxury Porsche

Taxpayers paid out more than £2,300 a month for a council chief executive on a £195,000 a year salary to drive around in a luxury ... Full story

30 signs YOUR relationship has hit the comfort zone (and will go the distance)

Do you go au natural around your partner, chat to them while naked and do their laundry? You've officially hit the comfort zone.New research reveals ... Full story

Number of Muslim children in England and Wales doubles in a decade with one in 12 school pupils now brought up in Islamic home

The number of Muslim children in England and Wales has doubled in a decade, according to the most detailed study of its kind.An analysis of ... Full story

Comment on: Battle of Normandy: Witness by witness, memories of the D-Day landings are preserved

Rate this article

0

Featured author

Robert Livingston

Breaking News

Oskar Groening trial: Auschwitz survivor Eva Mozes Kor criticised by co-plaintiffs for saying ex-SS officer should not face trial

A Holocaust survivor, who last week forgave a former SS officer currently on trial, has been criticised for saying that Oskar Groening should not be ...

Video: Turkish tourists film the terrifying moment Nepal earthquake struck Kathmandu Durbar Square

Video has emerged from Nepal showing the almost apocalyptic moment when a 7.9 magnitude hit Kathmandu's historic Durbar Square. The footage was filmed by Turkish tourists ...

Nepal earthquake: Gorkhas fly out to stricken region as part of UK aid mission amid UN warnings eight million may be affected

A team of 15 Ghorkhas have been deployed as part of the UK government’s aid mission to Nepal, struck by a devastating earthquake on Saturday. In ...

Donald Trump decides that Baltimore riots are Barack Obama's fault

Donald Trump has been heavily criticised after appearing to blame "our great African American President" for the violence in Baltimore. The entrepreneur singles out President ...

Badly decomposed bodies of 400 men, women and children discovered in Nigerian town of Damasak in suspected Boko Haram massacre

The badly decomposed bodies of hundreds of men, women and children have been discovered in the north-eastern Nigerian town of Damasak, in a massacre government ...

'Do not give them a reason': Baltimore man divides police and rioters in hope of avoiding violence

One man in Baltimore yesterday had seen enough black men die as a result of contact with the police in the US over the past ...

Ed Miliband seen leaving Russell Brand's Shoreditch home

Ed Miliband was spotted leaving the Shoreditch home of Russell Brand in the dead of Monday night. The sighting added further fuel to speculation that the ...

The BBC could be toast if the Tories narrowly sneak back into power with minor party support

A Conservative government supported by minor right-wing parties would be likely to have a hostile policy towards the BBC, according to statements made by the ...

Bali Nine executions: Live updates as Australians say goodbye to their families ahead of execution

One of the two Australian men due to be executed in Indonesia is reportedly planning to refuse a blindfold when he faces the firing squad. A ...

Bournemouth promoted: Chairman drops the F-bomb live on Sky Sports amid Premier League celebrations

Bournemouth all but guaranteed their place in the Premier League last night thanks to a 3-0 victory over Bolton. Barring a defeat on the final day ...