Page last updated at 17:57 GMT, Sunday, 25 October 2009

War veterans attend D-Day service

Charles Jeffries was wounded twice during the Normandy campaign

Hundreds of British World War II veterans have attended what may be their last major gathering, to mark the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

More than 1,000 Normandy Veterans' Association members were at the evensong service in Westminster Abbey to remember the landings.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth joined them.

Some 130,000 allied troops took part in the landings on 6 June 1944, which began the final stages of the war.

It was the largest amphibious operation ever mounted.

The Duke of Gloucester, who is patron of the Normandy Veterans' Association (NVA), gave a reading at the event and wreaths were laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

Rev Michael Macey, Minor Canon of Westminster, told those assembled for the service: "Here we are united with those who have gone before us."

I remember it with tears in my eyes
Roland Jefferson
WWII veteran

A number of veterans said the service had brought back memories.

Roland Jefferson, who was a rifleman in the Rifle Brigade, said: "I was thinking of the 209 colleagues of mine who still lie in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany."

And, when asked about D-Day, he said: "I remember it with tears in my eyes."

Ken Turner, who was a l/cpl in a tank crew at the time of the landings, also had strong memories of the war's final stages.

"The Germans threw everything at us. They knew they had to throw us back in the sea. But they didn't succeed, thank God," he said.

The service in London was expected to be one of the last mass events held by the NVA.

'Enduring legacy'

A spokeswoman for Westminster Abbey said: "Inevitably, the membership of the NVA decreases with each passing year. Eventually no veterans will remain.

"However, the legacy of what those servicemen and women accomplished, both during and after the Second World War, will endure."

D-Day veteran Charles Jeffries told the BBC that the annual event was very important to the men.

"The powers-that-be are saying this will probably be the last one, and to me that is absolutely horrible, because we remember people in the first war, we remember people in our particular war we were in, but there's always these other wars going on," he said.

"And the veterans themselves, you will find they don't discuss their feelings or what happened with their families. My daughters and my nephew never knew what action I had been in.

"You discuss among yourselves, the veterans, but certainly not with family."

Ernest Brewer
Ernest Brewer said veterans were giving credit to those who died

Fellow veteran Ernest Brewer, who was one of just 10 British people to be awarded the Legion d'Honneur earlier this year, agreed that the end of these events marked a turning point.

Mr Brewer, who was part of the Royal Horse Artillery and received France's highest order for his role in the Normandy landings, said: "I'm sad, partly because it means the break up of what I regard as a social club."

However, he said he and other local veterans would form a local social group for veterans to stay in touch.

Speaking before the service, he said the event was about "giving credit to the people who died" and it would leave him with a "quiet feeling of regret".

NVA president, Maj Gen Tony Richardson, also gave a reading, the address was made by the Reverend Martyn Percy, and the blessing came from the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster.

A series of events in France took place in June marking the 65th anniversary, including a parachute drop and a ceremony attended by Prince Charles and Gordon Brown, alongside the French and US presidents.

The NVA 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 Hussars.

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Commemorations in June included a parachute drop in Normandy



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