Norfolk D-Day veteran to open new Normandy memorial within eyeshot of where he landed in June 1944
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
From its lofty vantage point the new memorial gazes over peaceful beaches and calm seas that were transformed 75 years ago today into bloody battlefields.
The British Normandy Memorial will be officially inaugurated this morning at a ceremony attended by prime minister Theresa May and president Emmanuel Macron - and Norfolk D-Day veteran David Woodrow is playing a crucial role in proceedings, within eyeshot of where he landed in France 75 years ago to the day.
The ceremony will include the unveiling of the D-Day sculpture, of soldiers rushing from the sea on to the landing beaches, which was commissioned by The Normandy Memorial Trust and created by British sculptor David Williams-Ellis.
Mr Woodrow, representing the Royal Airforce, will join a handful of veterans who will come forward to place flowers by the statue and raise a salute to the fallen.
Televised across the world, the morning ceremony will be the beginning of an ambitious project which will see a large, walled memorial built overlooking Gold Beach and the remains of the Mulberry Harbours at Arromanches.
Close to the town of Ver-sur-Mer, this area witnessed extensive action both on D-Day itself and in the subsequent days and weeks - it was here that CSM Stanley Hollis of the 6th Green Howard's began the action for which he was awarded the only Victoria Cross on D-Day.
And it was here where Corporal Woodrow of the 652 Squadron AOP's war began, where a boy from Blofield became a man, wading through 4ft deep seawater, heavily laden, into a hell of fire and steel.
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In time, the memorial will include rows of columns which display the 22,000 names of men and women who lost their lives in the Normandy Campaign.
Most names will be those of British soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen but the memorial will also commemorate those who fought under British command from Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Poland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and America.
French civilian deaths will also be included at a separate memorial on the site.
"I was surprised when I was asked to take part in the ceremony but it's an honour to be asked," said Mr Woodrow, who lives in Topcroft and who attended a rehearsal for the prestigious ceremony yesterday.
"For it to be so close to the beach where I landed in 1944 is so special."
General The Lord Richard Dannatt said the commanding site had been chosen by veterans themselves and that remembrance was vital.
"We hope this will be a place where people can learn about the sacrifice made in the Normandy Campaign," he said, "I believe this new national memorial will become the unifying commemorative focus of this extraordinary campaign."
Mr Woodrow added: "If you ask any of us whether we think that we're heroes, we'll all say no.
"We were here because we needed to be here. We did what anyone would do to look after the people we love."