HELPING OUR D-DAY HEROES
The anniversary of D-Day is always a special time for us as we get to reunite with many friends and supporters in Normandy as well as see our memorial as Pegasus Bridge.
This year's commeorations were made even more special as we had the honour of supporting former Royal Navy serviceman, Cyril Banks.
Cyril, aged 91, served as an Able Seaman on Algerine Class Minesweepers and saw activce duty on the night of the 5th June 1944 on board HMS Ready as they cleared a path to Arromanches in preparation for the beach landings a few hours later.
Two months later, Cyril transferred onto LST160 (Landing Ship Tank) and went all the way to Singapore where they helped to take liberated Australian POWs back to Brisbane.
Cyril had been very keen to return to Normandy this year but needed help to get from the airport to his hotel in Arromanches.
We were contacted by Annie Riley, a friend of Cyril's who asked if we could assist in anyway. We were only too pleased ot be able to help.
After speaking with Cyril, it seemed that he needed a little more than just chauffering from the airport and back so we discussed what he would like to do whilst in France and made plans to make his trip as special as possible.
On 5th June, Cyril's flight was unfortunately cancelled due to a technical fault and he ended up flying to another airport many miles away, six hours later than his original flight! He was then brought by mini-bus to Caen Carpiquet Airport where we met him at 2345 - he was understandably very tired after such a long day but in great spirits. We thoroughly enjoyed hearing all about his exploits during WW2 on the long journey through the fog to his hotel in Arromanches.
The next day, we collected Cyril from Arromanches at 1700 after he had been a guest of honour at a large ceremony in the town to honour those who served in 1944. We took Cyril to Ouistreham for a superb and much deserved meal. He enjoyed a very nice meal before we took him back to Arromanches.
The next day, Cyril was very keen to visit a family he has known for a few years near Omaha Beach so we collected him from his hotel and drove to Vierville-sur-Mer.
When we arrived at their house early in the afternoon, the elderly lady of the family, Nicole, burst into floods of tears when she saw Cyril and hugged him for several minutes. She cannot speak a word of English and Cyril can only say Bonjour and Au Revoir!
We returned later in the evening after the rest of the family had finished work for the day and were amazed to see Nicole had called the whole family and they had all arrived, some from many miles away - they all greeted Cyril with huge warmth and happiness.
After saying hello, we left them and Cyril to it and went for dinner in nearby St Laurent.
When we returned 2hrs later, they were singing songs, drinking whiskey and hugging each other whilst laughing and applauding.
There were tears of joy when we left and many promises of meeting up again next year. We even managed to teach Cyril the French for "until next year".
To see a Veteran so happy was an absolute joy!
The family were all thanking us for bringing him to them and we were made to feel really welcome.
As we left, they produced a Union flag for a photo and sang a farewell song to Cyril!
Fabulous and very friendly people who are obviously very grateful to our Veterans.
As we drove Cyril back to his hotel in Arromanches, he was still laughing and had a huge smile across his face.
To be able to spend such time in the company of those who fought for our freedoms is a huge honour, privilege and duty.
We have made a wonderful friend in Cyril and leanred a great deal about his remarkable time in the Royal Navy.
Cyril is already keen to make plans to return next year and we have told him we will be there to support him again.