Upminster veteran’s tale of emotional week commemorating the D-Day landings he fought in 75 years ago
- Credit: Archant
A Royal Navy veteran from Upminster has shared his experiences of heading back to Normandy to take part in the official programme of memorial events to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Ron Wilson, 94, of Highview Gardens, was one of around 300 veterans who returned to France to mark the historic anniversary on June 6.
He spent an entire week out in France honouring the memory of his fellow soldiers, and met prime minister Theresa May as well as Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla.
He was even snapped by paparazzi kissing Camilla's hand at an official reception.
The Recorder caught up with Ron after his adventures in France to see how he got on, and unsurprisingly he had thoroughly enjoyed himself.
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"Of course it's always emotional going back. Very emotional.
"You go with all these other veterans and you're all dressed in uniform with your medals and for a while it takes you back," said the father-of-three.
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"When you leave the military you miss that comradeship and being with the lads and that sense of belonging, but I was fortunate enough to meet the love of my life in the navy, so I always carried it with me."
Ron was accompanied to France by his carer, Jennie Bardrick of Radfield Home Care, and the Wilson family made it very clear the entire trip wouldn't have been possible without her selflessness.
Jennie told the Recorder: "It was a really overwhelming experience to be able to go back to France with Ron.
"Everyone who met him was amazed at how happy he is.
"One of my favourite moments was one night as the Royal British Legion band played Ron got up and began to dance with another veteran.
"That was amazing to see."
Ron joined the Royal Navy aged just 18 back in 1942.
On D-Day - June 6 1944 - he was aboard the Landing Craft Tank LCT-571 when it was hit by enemy fire and badly damaged as it made its way towards Sword Beach - one of five strategic landing sites, located just under 10 miles from Caen.
"The thing I always say is that it was scary afterwards, once you had time to think about it.
"While it was all going on you were too busy surviving."
Ron's overriding memory of the day was his landing craft's captain threatening to shoot him while he tried to rescue another young soldier who had fallen overboard as the craft approached the beaches.
"I can still hear him shouting, 'Wilson! Get back on the doors!', but I had to tell him 'give me a minute, give me a minute!'".
Leaning overboard, Ron managed to pull the scrawny fellow teenager back into the boat.
He never found out the boy's name - the soldier was taken on board the LCT-571 to an Army depot near Poole in Dorset, from where he would no doubt have been sent back to Normandy.
So what was it like returning to Sword Beach 75 years later?
"You don't remember it as a beach," he told the Recorder. "You go back when it's calm and clear and empty, and it's nothing like how it was."
Ron's ship suffered damage trying to land, and returned to Southampton the same day so that repair works could begin.
"When we got back, our skipper said to us, 'you London boys can go home and tell your mums you're alright, just be back here by 12 tomorrow'.
"So I went back to London, saw my mum and went to the pub that night with a friend,
"Someone grabbed us and said 'what you doing here?' so I went: 'Just got back from Normandy'.
"He called me a 'bleedin' liar' because news of the invasion had only just been announced on the wireless."
After D-Day, Ron was declared unfit to go to sea due to a persistent ear problem, and so got himself a job on the HMS Dragonfly as ship's cobbler.
"One day a Wren [a member of the Women's Royal Naval Service] came in to get her shoes fixed.
"They were fully worn out, but I said I'd try my best."
The woman in question was Eileen, and Ron would go on to marry her in 1948, when he moved from Bow to Ockendon.
The pair had three children: Lorraine, Dianne and David; before moving to Upminster in 1968.
"I can honestly say she was the love of my life," said Ron.
"I never once looked at anyone else the way I looked at her, and she to me in return."