Today it’s a pleasant cross-channel trip with bars and restaurants. You can sit comfortably with your drink, watching a video, while the glittering sea glides by and excited schoolchildren rush hither and thither - over 60 years ago it was very different.
On June 6th 1944 the Allies launched Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe. Landing craft chugged through the heavy seas towards the Normandy beaches. Many of the grim faced men were sick - sea-sick, and sick with apprehension at the coming struggle to gain a toe-hold on the beaches. It has become a cliché to say that many of the men were still boys, but in one case that was literally true. Jack Banks from Darwen had lied about his age to join the fighting and was sailing with his comrades of the Durham Light Infantry. He’d enlisted at the age of 15.
Today many veterans cross the channel to see again where they landed and where many of their comrades fell. Earlier this year ex-navy commando Trevor Gosling returned with his son John to Arromanches, where he had landed with Combined Operations to construct the Mulberry harbour. Both Trevor and Jack were Darreners and both had worked at Shaws in Hoddlesden. In such a vast invasion force there must have been many neighbours, workmates and schoolmates who, unbeknown to each other, were straining their eyes for the French shoreline as it emerged from the dawn.
Trevor and John visited the beaches; Pegasus Bridge, where the first airborne troops landed in their gliders; and the war graves where John took these photographs. Sadly Jack Banks' grave is among them. He was wounded in an attack on a machine gun post and died later.
Each year the number of ex-servicemen revisiting the beaches dwindles. Each year the number of men and women who can remember those days decreases. Soon it will be a part of history, witnessed by nobody alive, like Trafalgar and the Battle of Waterloo, it will be a story told only in history books. If you were there, or if you were sitting at home waiting for news, if you have a story to tell, Cottontown would like to hear from you.
Such a story comes from the nephew of Stanley Duckworth, a veteran of Dunkirk, who left his great coat in France and claims the Army billed him for it, though his nephew wonders if this is a wartime myth. However Stanley was back in France on D Day, though it was a brief stay - his tank was hit and he was the only one to get out alive. That evening he was back in England, in hospital in Southampton. Stanley went on to make a good recovery and survived the war.