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TWO local D-Day veterans went to a memorial service in France this month on the 72nd anniversary of a battle that changed the world forever.
Melksham’s Allan Gullis and Frank Diffell from Whitley – both 92 years old – went to Normandy to revisit some of the battlefields where the pivotal battle of Normandy was held, and paid tribute to the thousands who died.
While in France Frank, who was part of the allied assault on Omaha Beach on 6th June 1944, was presented with the Legion d’Honneur – France’s highest honour usually reserved for French nationals.
Allan served as an army driver and landed on Sword Beach in Normandy on approximately 16th June 1944. He moved to Lille with a regimental holding unit, and served as a regimental policeman for HQ staff, then moved to Berlin in August 1945.
He travelled to France with his grandson-in-law Wayne Bentley.
Allan told Melksham Independent News, “I had been going to the memorial event every year, up until a few years ago when the Wiltshire branch of the Normandy Veterans Association closed down.
“Wayne went online and found the group ‘Return to Normandy 2016’ and we joined that.
“It was absolutely wonderful. When I look back on those days now, memories are a little faded but as soon as you meet up with fellow veterans, all the memories come back and we can reminisce together.”
The group will return in October with disadvantaged children and has asked Allan to go with them.
He said, “They said the children will listen to me because I have the experience of actually being there. I’m very happy that they asked me because now I get to go back again very soon.”
Wayne said, “We had a brilliant time and you have to see it to believe it really. The respect that everyone has for the veterans is immense. Even the school children want the veterans to sign programmes for them; they really see them as heroes.”
Whitley man Frank Diffell met Prince Harry in Portsmouth before heading to France and, during his trip, he was presented with the Legion d’Honneur by General Olivier Tramond in Chateau de Bernaville.
Frank said, “At Southwick House in Portsmouth, where General Eisenhower planned D-Day, I was able to tell Prince Harry that from my landing craft I helped land US troops on Omaha Beach under intense fire on D-Day and in the following days.
“During the week we visited Bayeux, Pegasus Bridge, Omaha and Juno beaches, museums, cemeteries, and attended services. On D-Day itself we went to Arromanches for a service, to lay a wreath at the Landing Craft Memorial and to take part in D-Day commemorations.
“During the Legion d’Honneur ceremony I discovered an American veteran who was on the same troop ship, HMS Empire Anvil, as my landing craft and crew.”