I’ve covered the 50th, 60th,65th and now the 70th Anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings in Normandy. Each and every time its been the greatest of privileges to meet and photograph the veterans who took part in that heroic endeavour.
As usual with any event that involves Heads of State and Royalty the form filling and accreditation procedures were ridiculously over complicated . The biggest challenge was to acquire a ‘Presse’ car sticker which would allow you to move around on the roads which were to be closed to everyone else on the big day… previous experience had shown this not to actually work but we waited around for 3 hours anyway to pick them up. My colleague Paul Grover spent this time elsewhere picking up the relevant passes required for each seperate event. By the end of the day we had all the bits of plastic and paper that we needed and just had to decide who was covering what. A further meeting with The Palace press people the following day was the last piece in the jigsaw.
Paul and I were in agreement that the veterans were to be our main concern. We found quite a few of the veterans also felt that the event had been a bit hijacked by VIP’s . We were going to have to cover the Royals when they turned up but prior to the big day we would concentrate on the ‘vets’.
I had a portrait to do of a fella called Jock Hutton who at 83 years of age was going to be parachuting back onto the field he’d landed in 70 years ago. There was also a video of him chatting to shoot so that (what with picking the passes up) took care of Tuesday 3rd.
I’d had this idea to shoot a set of portraits and to get the person to say a few words which would then be laid over the photograph on the website. The desk was quite keen that we did this sooner rather than later so Paul and I set out on Wednesday 4th to track some veterans down and get this project done and dusted. The main problem wasn’t finding them but finding them ‘Blazered up’ as in wearing official blazers and all their medals and berets. They generally only wear these on certain occasions so we had to track ones down that were actually attending official events. Paul tracked a group down in Arromanches and with a little help from my friends I tracked down a coachload in Thury Harcourt who were attending several events that day. I did the pictures on my Nikon 50mm 1.4 and used a ‘Zoom H 1″ MP3 recorder.
When someone you know passes away it’s easy to be reminded of what they looked like with photographs but the sound of their voice is far harder to recall, I was hoping this gallery would keep these veterans frozen in time .
This link should take you to the gallery : fw.to/CBeUqTa
On the 65th Anniversary Peter Macdiarmid from Getty and I had photographed a display of about 20,000 Union flags planted in the sand at Asnelles (Gold beach) by British Legion volunteers each one with a message to the soldiers who took part in 1944. This year they were repeating the display so that was one for Thursday 5th. I covered a Royal Artillery ceremony in Hermanville in the morning which made great pictures once we took some of the Veterans out onto the sand. Then as I was finishing wiring I got a call from the desk saying that a picture had dropped of the flags already and there was quite a lot of interest in it. I said I’d be there in ten minutes and tore off up the coast road, I say tore up but it was more like an amble behind loads of ‘re-enactors’ driving WW2 jeeps and wearing WW2 uniforms.
Dave Parker from The Mail was in the car park by the beach when I arrived. We needed a veteran or two to pose with the flags and a two coachloads had just left. Dave spotted one and we wandered over to have a chat, his name was Cyril Ager (89). As usual with these men he was only too happy to help and we chatted for a few minutes then wandered over. I had no idea what the picture was like that the desk were interested in but there was only really one way to shoot it. The only question was where to focus on the veteran or on the nearest flags or stopped right down and somewhere in between. I did all the above and they went for the one that was sharp on him.
And the Veterans from the Wiltshire British Legion back on Sword beach Hermanville.
June 6th was an early start. I wasn’t convinced that the car stickers would work so I set off for Arromanches at 5am. Paul left for Bayeux at the same time.
I saw the sun rise over the beach and did some pictures of the Normandy veterans Association raising their flag for the final time then settled in to wait for the ceremony at 6pm that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would be attending. The guessing was that at some point we would see the royals in amongst the veterans. In an ideal world they would join in the sing song at the end of the ceremony and link arms to do ‘Auld Lang Syne’. In the end the only time they were with veterans was at a pooled Tea Party out of sight. The pictures from the fixed point were boring. It was a massive missed opportunity by the Palace but having said that the day wasn’t about Kate and William so in a way I think they made the right call.
Just when we thought D-Day was over a spanner was thrown into the works. A Pensioner, Bernard Jordan (89) had allegedly ‘Escaped’ from his Care Home in Sussex and made his way to Normandy to take part in the events. Eventually we got his name then the evening turned into a search for him only ending in the port of Ouistrehem at about 23.15 when footage emerged on ITN of him taking the ferry back to Portsmouth at lunchtime.
June 7th was a Saturday and being part of the seven day Telegraph pictures operation meant Paul and I had to track something down. Paul went to Ranville to see if any veterans were visiting the cemetery and I went to Port-en-Bessin where I’d heard there was a ceremony to commemorate The Royal Marines. I was joined by fellow photographer Phil Coburn who was on for The Sunday Mirror.
Hand on heart this was without a doubt the best and most moving D-Day event I’ve ever covered. I don’t think the story is particularly well known, probably because it is remembered the day after D-Day so most of the media have left Normandy. The bones of it are that on the 6th June 1944 47 Royal Marine Commando landed taking heavy losses at Asnelles.Five of the Landing craft carrying the Commando ashore were sunk by mines and beach obstacles with the loss of 76 of the 420 men. They fought their way inland then moved across behind enemy lines to Port-en-Bessin which was their target. Two gun emplacements had to be taken to liberate the town and secure the port for fuel lines to be installed which would then allow the vehicles of the allies to push on into France and eventually Germany.
The great thing about this event was the obvious warmth that the town felt towards the men who had liberated them. The French are a very welcoming people and they really opened up their arms to these returning heroes. The parade of vintage vehicles through the town drew massive crowds and when a veteran was spotted in the seat of a jeep or lorry in his distinctive green beret the locals would reach out to shake their hands often encouraging their children to reach out also. No VIP’s in sight apart from the real ones who had actually been there 70 years ago.