Veterans virtually attend unveiling of Normandy memorial

John Pinkerton (l) and Tom Schaffer (r)

John Pinkerton (l) and Tom Schaffer (r) laid a wreath on the 77th anniversary of the Normandy landings. - Credit: Robin Savage

Veterans from Romford and Brentwood took part in a ceremony opening a memorial honouring soldiers who died in Normandy during World War Two.

Ken Hay from Upminster; Gilbert Clarke, who used to live in Harold Hill; and Brentwood-based John Pinkerton were among around 100 veterans and their families who watched a live broadcast of the unveiling in France.

The men, who were originally meant to fly to the opening, instead gathered at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on Sunday (June 6) - the 77th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

The British Normandy Memorial, located in the French coastal town of Ver-sur-Mer, records the names of the 22,442 servicemen and women under British command who were killed on D-Day and the fighting that followed.

John, who stood with World War Two veteran Tom Schaffer as he laid a wreath of poppies during the ceremony, said the day was "very moving".

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"It wasn't the same as being there in person, but it was good we were able to hold it," John said.

"We laid the wreath on behalf of the men who gave the greatest sacrifice for our freedom."

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The 79-year-old served from 1961 to 1986, and was posted in a number of places including Libya, Cyprus and Berlin.

John, who lost his magazine editor wife Annie Pinkerton almost five years ago, now lives alone in Brentwood.

World War Two veteran Ken read out a poem at the end of the ceremony.

WW2 veteran Ken Hay

WW2 veteran Ken Hay spoke at the Arboretum on 77th anniversary of D-Day - Credit: Robin Savage

He said: "We have waited a long time for this memorial - it was a pity we couldn't be there, but we are hoping to visit in the near future.

"Most of us who were there have colleagues whose names are on that memorial."

Ken enlisted into the Essex Regiment in 1943, aged 17, and served until 1947 - during which time he was taken as a prisoner of War (POW).

Another veteran who used to live in Harold Hill, Gilbert Clarke, gave a speech at the event.

In 1943, Gilbert lied about his age and left Jamaica to volunteer for the RAF. 

Plaistow veteran Gilbert Clarke

Gilbert Clarke, who lives in Plaistow, shared his memories of D-Day as a young RAF recruit training in Britain. - Credit: Alan Clarke

He said: "I volunteered like so many millions of others from Britain, the Commonwealth and elsewhere out of a sense of duty, to fight for king and country, to play my part like all the veterans here today in ensuring we left the world a better place for everyone."

Gilbert Clarke with members of the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans

Gilbert Clarke with members of the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans - Credit: Alan Clarke

The Taxi Charity for Military Veterans organised the attendees' travel, with London cab drivers taking them to the ceremony for free.

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