A stark reminder of fallen soldiers

SINCE I was a small boy I’d listen to stories about the Second World War, mainly from my grandfather and Tom Fowler, my next door neighbour.

My father never really spoke about the war himself and I realise now that it was just too painful; he lost his father, his brother and his brother-in-law in the fight against the Nazis.

So over the many years as a news photographer I always took very seriously all wartime anniversaries and all sorts of Remembrance gatherings and parades. I was delighted when Western Morning News editor Barrie Williams decided to send an editorial team to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004.

Reporter Sarah Pitt, feature writer Martin Hesp and myself sailed from Portsmouth to Cherbourg and the great thing was that we sailed with at least 100 Normandy Veteran Association members. The stories those brave men told non-stop for six hours were spell binding and the trip was worth it just for the ferry crossing alone.

I managed to meet and photograph dozens of veterans in many small nooks around Arromanches. There are many small cemeteries dotted around northern France; relatives and comrades knew exactly where their loved ones were buried.

Stand out moments for me were the blind man whose grandson had just found side-by-side war graves of his two best friends killed on D-Day, as all three of them landed on the beaches. He said he didn’t know why they were killed and he wasn’t, and became very upset as both his hands grasped the grave stones.

As we were driving back to Arromanches and to the beach, I stopped the car and picked a handful of wild poppies, I wanted to lay them on the sand where so many men had come ashore under a hail of machine gun bullets. The sea water ran up the sand and lipped over the poppies, a landing craft in the background finished off the picture which made many newspapers including a few front pages.

For me the image was a stark reminder of how the colour red stood out on a sandy beach which 60 years previous would have been the blood of fallen soldiers.

Woodmead Halls

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