Niece's moving D-Day journey for her UK veteran uncle Bill

Kaye travels to Normandy as part of commemorations of invasion that began the liberation of France. Her uncle, who turned 100 earlier this year, had planned to make the trip but died a few weeks ago

Bill Gladden and his niece Kaye, who made the voyage to Normandy in his stead
Published Last updated

On his 100th birthday, Bill Gladden, a veteran who served in the 6th Airborne Reconnaissance Regiment, vowed to return to Normandy to honour his fallen comrades.

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

Sadly, Bill died on April 24, just a few weeks before he was due to make the trip. Despite her grief, on June 4 his niece Kaye travelled over 300 miles from her home in Haverhill, Suffolk to fulfil Bill’s promise. 

Kaye, 60, was Bill’s principal carer for 14 years along with her husband Alan, who stayed behind to look after the family printing business.

Journey made alongside carers

“I set off from home in a cab provided by the London Taxi Charity for Veterans,” she says 

“From Portsmouth, we crossed to Ouisterham by ferry. It was a nine-hour sea journey, but the veterans, mostly in their 90s, were full of fun, sang and chatted about their experiences. Like uncle Bill, these men believe in living life to the full every day. I imagined what my uncle must have felt crossing the sea in a glider, aged just 20, not knowing what he would be facing. 

“I was so proud to be part of the charity carers team who had escorted my uncle . As we sat in the comfortable bar, I imagined how scared they must have been crossing that stretch of sea on a murky day, not knowing what they would be facing the other side.”

Read more: PHOTOS: 48 American veterans land in France for D-Day commemorations

14 cabs with 12 veterans (and their close relatives as passengers) made the pilgrimage to commemorate the 80th anniversary of WWII’s decisive battle which began the liberation of France. 

Kaye’s caring pals: Left, Abbie Kennedy and, right, Keely Allen, daughter of a cab driver, Centre, Mylton Burden. All are part the charity’s welfare team.

Bill faced harrowing experiences amongst fierce fighting

The battle was won, but at a terrible cost, with over 4,000 allied troops killed, and over 9,000 deaths in total. 

The invasion continued for over a year, with many of the same brave troops pushing towards Germany well into 1945.

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

Bill, like other young soldiers in his unit, flew into France inside one of over 30 specially equipped glider aircraft, then drove motorcycles under constant fire to join comrades already fighting near two bridges over the canal connecting Caen to the port of Ouistreham.

One of these was renamed and is now the famous Pegasus Bridge. There, Bill was hit by a tank gun, and was saved by pals who dragged him into a barn. 

He survived, despite awful wounds and was taken back to the UK. He spent three years in hospital.

Read more: Frenchman honours grandfather with tattoo of D-Day across whole back

A happy marriage to Marie, and the birth of his daughter Linda, now 62, followed, and Bill continued his hobby of painting up until he died. 

“He was in pain for the rest of his life, but never complained,” says Kaye. “ He used to say he was lucky to be alive, unlike his many pals who perished." 

Kaye shed some tears on June 4, just before the Normandie ship docked as the veterans grouped together to sing the poignant We’ll Meet Again, the Vera Lynn classic and much-loved by Bill. “I am sure he was singing along too!” she says.

SEARCHING FOR GRANDPA: Cab driver Sebastian Philp’s grandad died before he could get to know him. “I had served as an army reservist, so when I went through a bad patch emotionally, I volunteered to help the charity. Young people relate so well to older folk. I get more support from them than they do from me!” He escorted Doug Baldwin, who served with the Scottish Borderers and rifleman Don Turrell.