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Courage of D-Day forces is remembered

by
27 June 2014

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From the Revd Paul Abram
Sir, - D Company of the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry were the first British troops in Normandy in 1944, landing by glider just after midnight to take the bridges over the River Orne and the Caen Canal. It was essential to capture the town of Ranville close by; this was achieved by the 12th (Yorkshire) Parachute Battalion by 2.30 a.m. Ranville, the first town to be liberated, was counter-attacked repeatedly by German armour and infantry. It was always held. The casualties were heavy over the six weeks until the breakout.

Initially, the dead were buried in the cemetery, and are commemorated on a plaque inside the church. It became obvious that it was impractical to continue burying the dead in the churchyard, and so General Gale, commanding the 6th Airborne Division, and the Mayor of Ranville, Count Rohan de Chabot, decided that waste ground to the south of the church should be used. It was dedicated by George Hales, the Senior Chaplain, and Fr McGowan, the only surviving Roman Catholic chaplain.

Today, those cemeteries are the focal points of ceremonies that have continued each year since the end of the Second World War. In what is now the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, there are 2235 graves, of which 97 are unidentified, and also 321 German graves. On 6 June every year there is a mass in the church, during which 20 standard-bearers are placed round the altar, and the Anglican chaplain shares the service with the parish priest, after which there is a service at the Cross of Rememberance outside. This year, more than 3000 people attended. Also visited during the week were the Merville Battery, the Museum near the bridge over the Caen Canal, Breville, Benouville, and Putot en Auge, where 38 graves surround the Norman church.

This year, as it is the 70th anniversary, is special. The Veterans in the official group numbered only a few, and yet the Prince of Wales, as he has done before, together with the Duchess of Cornwall, was very much one of us, not least because he has earned his Airborne wings. For the service, we were joined by a large number of French schoolchildren, who live in freedom and appreciate the sacrifice made for them. The veterans also appreciate that what they and their comrades went through was worth while.

PAUL ABRAM
Paddock End, Kimpton
Andover, Hants SP11 8PG

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