Greetings to all,
Last week Monday was Memorial Day here in the US, a day to remember those who gave their lives while serving in the military. And tomorrow June 6, 2016 is the 72nd anniversary of the 1944 D-Day invasion by the Allies at Normandy, France. You may be asking yourself why this is relevant to a post about York, England. Well here’s the story.
We were in the UK to participate in a Friendship Force of Madison exchange with the Cleveland Friendship Force club May 11-18 (more on that in a future post). One of the days during our stay, our hosts arranged a bus trip to York, located about an hour and 20 minutes from our host area. The bus dropped us across the street from the War Memorial Gardens in downtown York. As we started walking away from the bus stop, Donna and I noticed a small group of people, some in uniforms, standing in the Gardens across the street. We were curious about what was happening so wandered over to find out. We asked this distinguishing looking chap what was what was going on. He told us they were doing a memorial service for the deceased veterans of the York Chapter of the Normandy Veterans Association.
His name is Ken Smith who was a Signaler for the 43rd Wessex Division of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. He went on to tell us that he landed on Gold Beach on June 6, 1944, the beach next to Omaha Beach where the Americans landed and lost almost 25oo men. He told us that he was one of five surviving members of their association, number six had been buried the week before. Mr. Smith also told us that he and other British D-Day veterans had just been awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest decoration awarded by the French government. It’s the one with a bright red ribbon on his left shoulder. He then invited us to stay for the ceremony, he said it wouldn’t last long and there wouldn’t be many people, he wished more were interested. We then started chatting with the standard bearer who carries the flag of the Yorkshire Regiment Association at events such as this. We didn’t get his name but he was very friendly and told us a bit about his service in the British Army. He told us that he heard that the Americans treat their veterans very well and wished they had the same support in Great Britain.
About then, a limousine pulled up to the Garden gate containing the Lord Mayor of York, Sonja Crisp, her husband called the Councilor, and the High Sheriff and his wife. The Lord Mayor is the Chair of the City of York Council, first citizen and civic head. The position is largely ceremonial and is usually the longest serving member of the City Council. She greeted Mr. Smith who then brings her over and introduces her to us, we were very honored to meet her. Interestingly, we had met the Mayor of Stockton-on-Tees earlier in the week where we learned a lot about the traditional roles of Mayors in English history (more on that in a future post). She was very pleasant, we had a nice chat about her job and traveling in the US. I asked her about the other dignitary, the High Sheriff. She said it was again a traditional, ceremonial role based in English history. She then proceeded to tell us the most important job they have is to test the ale in the pubs and taverns in York (lots of them!) once a year. She said they select a few pubs then “test the ale” and raise money for local charity. Apparently by the end of the evening they are quite tipsy but it’s for a good cause! Here’s photograph of the Lord Mayor, by the way, she the second highest ranking Lord Mayor in the UK, only out ranked by the Lord Mayor of London. We were told that a few times, I think to impress up on us the importance of the Lord Mayor attending this ceremony. The chain she is wearing indicates her office and carries a lot of historical symbolism.
Soon it was time for the ceremony to start with four of the five surviving members in attendance. The event was presided over by the Reverend David Porter at the memorial to remember all those who died in the D-Day campaign.
When the Last Post (used at British Commonwealth military funerals and ceremonies commemorating those killed in battle) was sounded the standard bearer dropped the flag to the ground to honor those who had fallen. This is followed by a moment of silence and Reveille is sounded. Then a wreath of red poppies was laid at the foot of the monument.
After the ceremony was a time for pictures of the Association members and dignitaries.
We were honored to participate in this ceremony and meet these WWII veterans, there’s not many left, these fellows were all in their 90’s. When preparing this article, I found a youtube video were they recorded and archived the history of some of these D-Day survivors. Here’s a link to the video that contains a very inspiring message from Mr. Smith, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC9vWNw1UH0. By the way, the Lord Mayor and her husband are accompanying the surviving D-Day veterans to a ceremony in Normandy this June where they will officially receive their medals from the French government.
After the ceremony, we also talked with Bob Burrows, another member of the Yorkshire Regiment. He told us that the Americans used British landing craft when they landed on Omaha Beach and that in the movie Saving Private Ryan, US craft were used, not historically correct he said! Mr. Smith also told us that he had a friend that was an engineer that went in with the Americans to trouble shoot and help with any problems with the equipment since it was British made.
This was one of the most memorable experiences we had on our recent trip to England and Scotland, I started with this article because of the proximity to Memorial Day and the D-Day anniversary. More to come in the next few on England and Scotland so stay tuned!