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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
Veterans fight for D-Day landmark
veterans with standards
Veterans gaze out over the historic slips
D-Day veterans have held a poignant commemorative service beside two wartime slipways in Devon that are facing demolition.

An international campaign has been launched to save the slipways in Torquay, from which thousands of men embarked for the Normandy landings in June, 1944.

A year ago English Heritage awarded them a grade II* listing, to protect their future.

But last month, Torbay councillors decided to press ahead with plans to demolish the slipways as part of a waterfront redevelopment.

More than 100 veterans gazed out over the waters of Torquay Harbour for Wednesday's ceremony at Beacon Quay.

standards
Eleven standards lined the quayside
Eleven standards flapped in the brisk breeze as a Royal Marines band played and wreaths were laid at the head of the slipways.

Two RAF helicopters staged a fly-past and a bagpiper, Robert Barbour DFC, played a lament for the fallen.

On previous anniversaries, a wreath has been placed in the water from the bottom of the steep concrete ramps.

But the slipways were closed last year after an independent survey raised serious safety concerns.

'Quite remarkable'

This year, John Abrams, a former merchant seaman, stood 200 yards offshore on a picket boat supplied by the Royal Naval college at Dartmouth and dropped a wreath into the harbour.

The veterans onshore watched it drift straight towards them.

"It was quite remarkable," said Tony Ryder, local secretary of the Normandy Veterans Association.

Veteran with flag
Men came from around the UK for the service
"The tide and the wind pushed it right up under the slipways."

Last month members of the council's Beacon Waterfront committee voted to seek special permission to demolish the ramps and provide a new wider slipway.

Better facilities are planned for small boats as part of the harbour regeneration

The council says it would cost 1.4m to carry out temporary repairs to the embarkation ramps.

The controversy was kept in the background at the ceremony, said Mr Ryder.

US campaign

"It was the one thing we did not discuss at the time. We don't want the slipways demolished, but it's for the council and English Heritage to resolve now."

But veterans on both sides of the Atlantic are fighting the plan.

A petition of 16,000 names has been gathered - 7,000 in the United States.

bud crippen
Bud Crippen embarked from the slipways in 1944
The issue will be raised at a reunion of hundreds of veterans in Washington next month.

"This is becoming an international issue," said Mr Ryder.

"English Heritage told us the slipways were the best-preserved D-Day structure in the whole country."

One of those standing at the head of the ramps on Wednesday was Milton "Bud" Crippen, who embarked from the same spot on 3 June, 1944.

"These slipways are a link between our two countries, just like the steps at Plymouth that the Pilgrim Fathers walked down," he said.

"Our boys came down there and they didn't know what they were going to.

"That was the last view some of them had of the civilised world, because when they hit the beaches, they died."

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See also:

06 Jun 01 | TV and Radio
Spielberg D-Day epic unveiled
09 Feb 00 | Europe
Museum tribute for D-Day bridge
26 Jan 99 | Wartime spies
Spaniard behind the D-day landings
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