10:16AM, Thursday 06 June 2019
As the world marks 75 years since D-Day, chief reporter Will Taylor looked at Maidenhead’s connection to the Normandy landings. Operation Overlord put the Allies back into northern Europe and set the final stage in Nazi Germany’s defeat.
Maidenhead Heritage Centre continues to hold its Memories of D-Day exhibit, which will last until the end of the month.
It features interviews with local D-Day veterans, carried out by the centre’s chairman Richard Poad in the 1990s.
Those veterans are no longer alive but their recollections of the day live on, and focus the enormous operation into a deeply personal experience.
“The Normandy landings were an absolutely decisive blow to Nazi Europe,” Richard said of the importance of remembering D-Day.
He said the veterans were impressive because of their ‘single-mindedness’.
“Hitler had to be beat (was the attitude),” he said, “and getting back into northern Europe.
“The other thing that is really important was their modesty.
“They were just doing their jobs.
“I know we were quite lucky in 1994 to actually get people who were willing to open up about it.
“People of my generation whose parents were in World War Two, in many cases they never talked about it.”
Items from the Thames Valley Scale Model Club are on display alongside uniform and medals.
The exhibition ends on Saturday, June 29.
Visit maidenheadheritage.org.uk for more.
A series of interviews with local D-Day veterans was carried out by Richard Poad in 1994, ahead of the invasion’s 50th anniversary.
They include thoughts from Corporal Hubert Beckley, who was 25 when he landed on Gold Beach during the second wave.
He was the commander of a Bren Gun Carrier, a light
armoured vehicle, which had been fitted with flotation skirts so it could essentially swim to shore from its landing craft.
“On the way across it was blowing half a gale,” the Maidonian told Richard.
“A lot of us were seasick and were glad to get ashore, even if we knew the Germans were waiting for us.
“In action you are apprehensive and tensed up, that way you react more quickly to danger.
“There were broken tanks and guns and vehicles from the first wave.
“Some German snipers were hiding up the trees… a supporting tank soon sorted them out.
“Of the 850 of us who went ashore with the brigade, there were less than 50 still going at the end of the war.”
Corporal Beckley was born and bred in Maidenhead. He was wounded twice later in 1944 and after the war ended he returned to his job at Marks and Spencer. When interviewed in 1994, he was living in Cookham.
Another veteran interviewed was Ted Bond, who was 26 when he landed on Juno Beach in charge of a platoon in C Company, 5th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment.
Sergeant Bond actually went on to volunteer with the heritage centre.
He described the noise on D-Day as ‘deafening and reached the very depths of the stomach’.
“Sheltering behind a tank, I directed my platoon up to the sand dunes to await further orders.
“A Canadian captain was focusing on the church area.
“I tapped him on the shoulder and he keeled over, shot dead through the forehead.”
Sergeant Major Harry Griffin, who was 27 when he landed on Gold Beach, was in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
“The seasickness was so horrible you forgot your fear,” he recalled to Richard. Sgt Maj Griffin went on to become mayor of Maidenhead in 1971 and alderman.
View these and more at the heritage centre, in Park Street.
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