'Live each day like it’s your last', says D-Day veteran from Normandy

Veterans arrived in London cabs driven by volunteers from the Taxi Charity. The Connexion was there and spoke with naval hero John King

Split image of UK world war two veterans holding photo of friend and photo of veteran as young man
‘Bill is with us’: UK veterans keep friend’s memory alive at D-Day commemorations in Normandy. John King holds a photo of Bill and, right, John as a young man in his naval uniform
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Twelve UK veterans of World War Two returned to the Normandy beaches in London cabs as part of the 80th commemorations of D-Day. The Connexion visited them as they paid tribute to fallen companions and departed friends.

The veterans and their families arrived in 14 London cabs, driven by members of the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, and flanked by an honour guard of French police motorcycle outriders.

The men were there to remember brave survivors who have died in the 80 years since the decisive battle which liberated France.

The most recent plaque to be added to the memorial includes that of Bill Gladden of the 6th Airborne Reconnaissance Regiment. Bill died on April 24 aged 100.

Read more: British D-Day veteran Bill: I want to honour fallen comrades in France

Naval hero John King, a Royal Navy veteran, who served in the 14th Destroyer Flotilla, was a close friend. We spoke to him as he visited Le Grand Bunker, a museum and garden on Sword Beach, Ouistreham, Normandy yesterday (June 6).

“We are all popping off soon. I am 99 and most of us are in our nineties, so this is likely to be our last chance to be here in Normandy.

“Bill was a great character, full of stories, and that’s part of the reason we all enjoy this so much. People ask why we all look so cheerful and keep going during such a tiring trip. Well, you’ve only got one life so live each day as though it was your last. That was Bill’s motto and it is mine.”

John knows what he is talking about: he was one of 80 survivors when 160 men went down with HMS Janus during the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy in January 1940.

Read more: Quotes from King Charles, Macron and Biden at D-Day commemorations 

A jazz band on the beach

The taxi convoy which brought their precious passengers to the beach was greeted by local people, a jazz band, museum bosses and staff. 

Cheers and applause were followed by moving tributes to seven of the recently departed. 

Kaye Thorpe, Bill Gladden’s niece, fought back tears as she visited Bill’s plaque, the most recent addition to a memorial garden honouring veterans who have died since D-Day.

“He passed away such a short time ago,” she said. “Next week, he will be laid to rest near his home in Haverhill, Suffolk, but his heart will always be here in Normandy.”

Jon Orrell, whose father Major Bob Orrell led British troops during three days of fierce fighting to capture the bunker that now houses the museum said: “It was built as the nerve centre of this part of the Nazi coastal defence, it’s 17 metres high and a remarkable construction. 

Now, visitors come here from all over the world. The garden will add an area for contemplation after their visit, which shows, in much detail, what daily life was like for the occupation army.”

One local lady told us that, during the huge building’s construction 125 houses were destroyed, the whole area flattened.

“The new memorial, the amazing arrival of the veterans, their good humour and cheer brought out the sunshine..we are so lucky, thanks to them.”