FOUR North-East military enthusiasts have just returned from a 1,400 mile round trip to the Normandy beaches in a 1943 artillery truck.

Denny Thompson and Duncan Glen of Rothbury in Northumberland and Trevor Griffiths and Tony Marshall of Darlington shared the driving – and the fuel bills – of the 1943 AEC Matador 10 ton 4x4 Artillery Tractor. The vehicle does around 11mpg at an average speed of 38mph.

It was the British Army’s heaviest vehicles which carried an artillery crew, of nine men, and towed a heavy anti-aircraft gun with which to shell the enemy.

Vehicle owner Denny said: “The truck is large and quite a handful to drive in the French villages, but we managed and the surviving veterans were overjoyed to see it, as most of them drove or travelled in one at some point in the war.”

One of their stops was at the tiny Jerusalem Cemetery near Tilly-sur-Seulles, which featured in Memories 426. It has just 48 graves, 23 of them belonging to members of the DLI who were killed in the weeks after D-Day.

The most visited of these graves is that of Pte Jack Banks who was just 16 when he was killed with two other members of the DLI attempting to take out an enemy machine gun post.

He had left school in his native Darwen in Lancashire aged 14, worked at a glazed brickworks and excelled in the Home Guard. At 5ft 9ins tall aged 15, he was able to convince the military authorities that he was 18 and joined up – his mother, Fanny, was not best pleased and said she would reveal his age if he were to be posted abroad.

Of course, the secrecy around the D-Day landings meant she didn’t know he had landed on Gold beach. On July 21, he volunteered to attack the gun. His two colleagues were killed outright but Jack lingered for a couple of hours in the field ambulance.