D-Day veterans still helping others, nearly 70 years on

The Northern Echo: Gilbert Thompson presents the cheque to Arthur Charlton Gilbert Thompson presents the cheque to Arthur Charlton

A GROUP of Normandy landings veterans may have finally sounded the retreat on their annual battlefield pilgrimages, but a parting gift means they are still serving others, nearly 70 years on from their D-Day heroics.

From its base in Durham, the Normandy Veterans Pilgrimage Association has been taking Second World War servicemen from across the country back to French war sites for nearly a quarter of a century.

Due to the shrinking number of surviving veterans still fit enough to travel abroad, the group has now folded.

However, it has gifted its remaining funds, a total of £600.47, to SSAFA, a long-established charity that supports military families.

Today (Monday, December 2), Gilbert Thompson, the association’s chairman for a decade, presented a cheque to Arthur Charlton, chairman of SSAFA’s Durham branch, at the branch’s headquarters, on Old Elvet, Durham City.

Mr Thompson fought against the surprise late-1944 Nazi counter-offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge and later survived being shot through the neck in post-war Palestine.

A military doctor told him if the wound had been a quarter of inch to the left, it would have killed him.

As it was, he was back out on patrol the same night, with wrapping to protect his bullet-scarred neck.

In just three years in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry – initially the 1st Battalion then the 2nd Battalion – before his discharge in 1948 aged 21, he rose to become an Acting Company Sergeant Major.

Later, he went on to help hundreds of D-Day veterans return to Normandy. Coach loads of up to 50 would make the journey each year.

“It was very emotional,” he said.

Now 87 and living in Meadowfield, near Durham, the South Shields-born great-grandfather said he was happy the association’s outstanding money would go to support SSAFA, saying: “SSAFA covers every regiment and service and it helps individuals.

“It gives practical help and that’s why we considered it.”

SSAFA, formerly the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association Forces Help, supports people who are currently serving or have previously served in the Royal Navy, British Army or Royal Air Force and their families.

For more information, visit ssafa.org.uk

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