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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 May, 2005, 04:28 GMT 05:28 UK
The road to VE Day
By Robert Hall
BBC News

I woke to the sound of a piper. It was dawn on 6 June, 2004, and my room in a small seafront hotel at Arromanches, Normandy, was bathed in pink light.

WW2 Veteran Richard Todd
Richard Todd revisits the spot where he parachuted in on D-Day

Small knots of early risers had gathered outside to watch the piper as he paced the empty sands.

It was his very personal tribute to those who had fallen here, on the day 60 years earlier when thousands of Allied troops had stormed ashore on D-Day.

For me, and for BBC colleagues, this was the start of a remarkable and often moving year of remembrance.

A journey through Europe from Normandy to Arnhem and to the closing days of the war in Germany.

First contact

It was in Normandy that I met the actor Richard Todd, who had parachuted in with his unit to capture a vital bridge.

One day I felt that I just couldn't go on, and two friends picked me up... and literally dragged me along. That's what friends are for, I reckon.
RAF Sgt Batch Batchelder - POW

We helped him find the spot where he had landed - his first sight of it since D-Day.

Looking over the rolling farmland that was his drop zone, he recalled first contacts with the German defenders.

"I realised there was a certain amount of small arms fire... tracer going all over the area, and I decided to get the hell out of there as quick as I could."

"I lost friends.. I'd never lost friends before. I think D-Day was the making of me... I grew up that day.."

Like the British veterans before me, my journey took me across France, Belgium, and the Netherlands - scene of Operation Market Garden, an ambitious plan to advance rapidly towards the Rhine.

Tribute to friends

Sixty years on I watched eight former paratroopers, most in their eighties, jump once more into the Arnhem landing zone; tens of thousands came to acknowledge this tribute to friends who lost their lives.

Former Paratrooper - Les Lockett goes up for another jump
Les Lockett was one of 8 veterans who took part in the tribute parachute jump

Les Lockett, one of the eight, summed up why they had overcome the frailties of age.

"There's a lot of pride in going up," he said. "It's not courage, it's pride."

Courage would be shown even as Europe celebrated the German surrender.

I met former RAF Sergeant Batch Batchelder, one of the 'forgotten POW's' - prisoners of war marched East by their captors, sick, exhausted, and without food.

Many died at the roadside.

"One day I felt that I just couldn't go on," Sergeant Batch told me.

"And two friends picked me up, put their hands under my armpits, and literally dragged me along. That's what friends are for, I reckon."

He survived to be reunited with his wife; he says that this 60th anniversary of VE Day is prompting memories of those final days in captivity.

His final comment echoes the feelings of so many other veterans: "Coming home is a personal thing, but it doesn't preclude me from thinking about all those others... the men who didn't come home."

You can watch Robert Hall's journey in a BBC News Special, The Road to VE Day, on Wednesday, 4 May, 1230, on BBC1


SEE ALSO:
Leaders and veterans mark D-Day
06 Jun 04 |  Europe


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