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.
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
Rate this article
MOST POPULAR ON CAPITALBAY
What a washout! Heavy rain forces play to be suspended in The Open at St Andrews after lightning and 50mph winds hit Britain... and there's more on the way
Conditions halt play before first group had even finished first hole on second day of championship in FifeDownpour saw torrent of water gushing down ...
It happened on the A24 at Findon, West Sussex, at about 8.30pm, last nightSuspect got out of car in front and knifed driver in other ...
Furious holiday goers complained of long queues at Heathrow's Terminal 2Passengers claimed 'chaos' due to self-service machines running out of paperHappened as 3,000 people descended on ...
Son of NHS doctor from Middlesbrough helped to recruit up to 18 fellow medical students to join Isis
Mohammed Fakhri Al-Khabass' father ran a GP practice on Teesside25-year-old grew up in Middlesbrough but went to university in SudanHe then radicalised other ...
Pictured: The tattered party dress, dirty shorts and ripped t-shirt found next to a child's body and a battered suitcase by the side of a road
Police release images of suitcase and clothes found with dead childA girl's black dress, undergarments, and a girl's shoe were picturedGender of the child still ...
Shocking footage shows Russian-backed rebels rifle through belongingsThey initially believed they had shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet Donetsk People's Republic and Kremlin have always denied responsibility 298 passengers and crew ...
Mayor says children must be kept inside between 2pm and 5pm and tells town to be quiet as it becomes the first in Spain to have an official afternoon nap time
Joan Faus Vitoria, mayor of Ador in Valencia, has brought in official siestasFor three hours every day, locals are able to return home and go to ...
Arnold Holle urged Germans not to send children to UK public schoolsInvestment banker spent 'seven-figure' sending all four of his childrenBut said pupils learn same ...
Chief Inspector Paul Cahill allegedly found slumped over wheel of his carOfficers searching vehicle found MDMA, mephedrone and controlled sedativeCahill was on way to court to ...
Prince Harry is at front line of a war against the illegal trade in rhino horn Royal is raising awareness of a deaths of thousands of ...