Proud moment tor D-Day vets

Tara GreavesNormandy veterans - including old soldiers from Norfolk - attended what could be the last mass act of remembrance of the D-Day operations which marked a turning point in the second world war.Tara Greaves

Normandy veterans from Norfolk have joined other old comrades in attending what could be the last mass act of remembrance of the D-Day landings of the second world war.

Prime minister Gordon Brown, defence secretary Bob Ainsworth and the Duke of Gloucester, who is the Queen's cousin and the chairman of the Normandy Veterans Association (NVA), joined members of the association at Westminster Abbey for an evensong service yesterday to mark the 65th anniversary.

Jack Woods, of the Norwich branch, said: "It is very important that people remember what has been done by their forebears. If you don't, everything drifts away, especially in this climate.

"Everyone knows about Afghanistan because it is on our minds, but people do not remember what happened before. We cannot afford to forget the past."

Mr Woods, of Aylsham Road, Norwich, served with the Royal Tank Regiment in Normandy.

"It was a fantastic battle and one that liberated Europe and liberated us. If this battle hadn't happened there would have been a complete stalemate," he said.

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The city branch has 272 members, of whom 121 are veterans. About 35 made the trip to London.

Mr Woods, 85, added: "This will be the last one in London, but we will have to wait and see after the annual conference on October 31 what happens to decide where we as an association go."

The national association was formed in 1981 at a meeting between four ex-servicemen arranged by Eric Bulman, who served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, attached to the 8th (King's Royal Irish) Hussars.

The allied landings that began on June 6, 1944 to establish troops on Normandy soil amounted to the largest amphibious operation in history. US, British, and Canadian forces landed simultaneously at five points along the shoreline and began the liberation of France.

The Reverend Canon Prof Martyn Percy, principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxford, gave an address at the event about the importance of sense of duty.

He said: "In our day and time and culture, I suppose we see that obligation has given way to choice. We are at a very peculiar crossroads in our culture as we come to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

"While the echo of duty is strong enough to evoke all kinds of wistful memories, it sometimes feels too weak to take it for granted."

He said the men who negotiated the beaches of Normandy "knew more than a little something about duty".

At the end of the service, Mr Brown and the chairman of the NVA stood at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior as Last Post sounded.

Members of the Royal British Legion held a half-time parade at Norwich City's football match against Swindon Town at Carrow Road on Saturday. Joining them were representatives of 254 Medical Regiment, the Swanton Morley-based Light Dragoons, Territorial Army and Langley School combined cadet force as they helped to launch the 2009 Poppy Appeal.