D-Day: Second World War veterans from Northern Ireland stand on beaches of Normandy
Second World War veterans from across Northern Ireland will today stand on the beaches of Normandy, perhaps for the last time.
The dwindling band of brothers, now in their late 80s and 90s, will be making an emotional journey to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings on D-Day.
Thousands of Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of France 70 years ago, paving the way for the final defeat of Nazi Germany.
Today some of the last surviving D-Day veterans from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US will join the Queen, US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin for the official commemoration of the biggest seaborne invasion in military history.
The ceremony is at Sword, the most eastern of the five beaches.
Closer to home, cinemas in Northern Ireland will tonight screen a live BBC concert to commemorate the anniversary.
Radio 2 will stream the special D-Day 70 Years On edition of Friday Night Is Music Night to cinemas across the UK – including the Odeon in Belfast and Omniplex theatres in Antrim, Lisburn and Dundonald – from 7.30-10pm. Among those going to the Belfast screening is Anne Willis from Nutts Corner, whose late father, Lieutenant Alexander North Hardy from Whitehead, served in the Royal Navy.
As commanding officer of HMS Valena, a minesweeper, he sailed off the French beaches on June 5 in heavy weather, helping to clear the way for the invasion fleet to land the following morning. "It is important D-Day and other such occasions are marked," said Ms Willis. "Younger people are coming on board with the history of it all. Without it where would we be today?"
Lisburn-based former RAF pilot Bill Eames towed a glider full of paratroopers to targets in Normandy just ahead of the main landings
The 91-year-old widower and father-of-two, a retired light aircraft instructor at Newtownards airfield, had his 21st birthday just before D-Day.
"I was footloose and fancy-free at the time and not particularly frightened, but we did indeed realise the significance of what we were doing that day," he said.
"We'd been training for it in secret for the past year. Nobody, including my parents, knew about the operation."
Bill added: "I'm very glad to be alive for this big anniversary. I just enjoy life as it comes and am very glad to have done my bit for D-Day."
Tomorrow from 10am to 4.30pm, Belfast's NI War Memorial – the museum in Talbot Street that stands as a permanent memorial to those who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars – is hosting a free family living history event to mark the D-Day 70th anniversary.
Members of the Wartime Living History Society will wear US and British uniforms of the Normandy campaign, and will give informal presentations about the crucial preparations that took place in Northern Ireland in the lead-up to D-Day.
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