Monday, November 17, 2008

“You may forget ….”

Friday 6 June 2008: St Nicholas’ Chapel, Whitehaven, Cumbria.
The West Cumbria Normandy Veterans Association Branch Standard has been handed over to Father Matthew Carney O.S.B. (left) (R.C. Chaplain) and Reverend John Kelly (right) (Anglican Chaplain). The Standard was subsequently laid up in St James’, Whitehaven.
"Men may forget, you may forget, but God will remember...."
Brigadier Derek Mills-Roberts,
First Special Service Brigade,
Normandy, 1944
November 2008 is a key date in the history of the West Cumbria Branch of the Normandy Veterans Association. Photographs documents, files and minute books about the Branch's activities between 1987 and 2008 are handed over to the Cumbria County Archives for safekeeping, and so that in years to come others will be able to know something about the Branch and its members.

(For additional information click on ‘Comments’ below)


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

It is a privilege - if one perhaps tinged by a little sadness - that the lot to undertake this task has fallen to me. Although I have never been a Branch member, for several years I have been an unofficial 'Branch Photographer and Historian', and a great honour it has been to have met and known the many men and women associated with the West Cumbria Branch. If I have praised these fine people too highly at any time, then I make no apology, for they are beyond praise.

There are perhaps better - and pleasanter - things to write about than war, armies, invasions and the death of family or friends. Many of the Normandy Veterans have had to face sudden death around them all too often to make a fuss about it. Without exception, none of them would claim to have been heroic. Sometimes it appears as though the world has a short memory. Yet as Napoleon reputedly remarked, bravery is never really out of fashion. If there is a good story to tell then it should be told. Even in wartime, there were many good things to counterbalance the bad, love and romance to counterbalance death, laughter to counterbalance the sorrow, and there was music and dance to keep morale high. Above all, there was comradeship, something that never ended and possibly a key reason why Veterans have remained in close contact ever since.

The West Cumbria Branch of the Normandy Veterans Association (Branch No 51) was founded in 1987, mainly by the late Mr Joseph (Joe) Bainbridge (ex-R.A.S.C.) of Hensingham, Whitehaven. Those persons who had served at any time in the WW2 Normandy campaign between 5 / 6 June 1944 and 22 June 1944 were entitled to be full members of the Association, although the Branch also accepted others as Associate or Honorary Members. Mostly, but not exclusively, Associate / Honorary Members were often others who had served in the Forces during WW2 in other theatres of conflict, or had served in the Forces in the post-war years. There were also 'Widow Members' - spouses of members who had died. Although there were service women who took part in the Normandy Landings - and therefore eligible for Full Membership of the Association - the West Cumbria Branch did not have any Full Members who were women.

The minute books of the Branch date from 4 September 1990 until the A.G.M. of 4 February 2008. The West Cumbria Branch Secretary during these years was Mr Jim Jolly from Cleator Moor. In February 2008 the Branch voted to disband after a final ceremony in St Nicholas' Gardens, Whitehaven on 6 June 2008, 64 years after the D-Day Landings. The original intention of the Branch had been to keep it functional until at least June 2009, the 65th Anniversary of D-Day. Alas, the combination of many of the more active Branch members having received their 'Final Bugle Call' and the age and infirmity of other members meant the time had arrived for everyone to 'Stand down' for the last time.

The Branch Standard was dedicated on 6 September 1987, and laid up for the last time on 6 June 2008. On that day the Branch Standard was handed over to the Parish of Whitehaven (Church of England), being displayed in the Chapel of St Nicholas for a short time before being taken to St James' Church, High Street, Whitehaven. The Branch President was Mr Graham Connett M.B.E. of Harrington, Workington who was for many years in charge of Remploy Ltd in West Cumbria.

It was Mr Connett who did much of the background work in getting a Normandy Veterans Memorial Plaque and a Memorial Seat installed in the St Nicholas' Church Gardens, Whitehaven, which proved to be the focus for twice-yearly Memorial Services (6 June and 11 November). On 6 June 2008 Mr Connett was due to hand over the Standard to the Parish of Whitehaven on 6 June 2008. Unfortunately, Mr Connett was unable to perform this last duty for the Branch due to ill-health and passed away a few days later. Mr Frank Flinn of Whitehaven carried out the duty of handing over the Standard in the absence of Mr Connett.

Various items belonging to the Branch that were loaned to Copeland Borough Council for display in Whitehaven Civic Hall (plaque, plates, framed map of the Landing Beaches etc) have been donated to the Council for display at The Beacon, Whitehaven (Museum). The expectation is that these items will form part of the Museum's display items so that people will remember the part played by West Cumbrians in the Normandy Landings of 1944.

It is said that old soldiers never die - they just fade away. As the members of the West Cumbria Branch on the Normandy Veterans Association take their final salute, let us hope that their sacrifices, and those of their comrades, will never fade away and will be remembered.

“Lest we forget”.

Thank you!

November 2008

Monday, 17 November, 2008  

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