HANDS trembling, the old man, supported by his walking stick, stepped forward to the war memorial and laid a wreath.

His medals gleaming in the low evening sun, he straightened himself up, and saluted, as if still on duty, 75 years on.

He stared forward as the haunting wail of bagpipes filled Bishop Auckland Market Place, perhaps thinking of the friends and comrades who did not make it back.

Now 94, Tom Robson, like so many others, was just a teenager when he fought to help free western Europe from Nazi tyranny.

He served as a corporal with the 59th Staffordshire Reconnaissance Regiment, and arrived in Normandy two weeks after D-Day.

The 19-year-old narrowly escaped with his life after coming under attack from both the Germans and the Americans in the space of half an hour.

He said: “Two American planes appeared and they came down the road and bombed us.

“We used our identification signals, yellow smoke and yellow squares of silk, but they went right down the road, banked and came right round again and machine-gunned us. The man in front of us died.

“I lifted my head up as they came down on us and you could see the rounds ricocheting off the road. I thought that would be it.”

Taking cover from a mortar attack in an orchard shortly afterwards he had another lucky escape.

Mr Robson said: “I was under a big apple tree when a big bomb landed above me. I was showered in dust and bits of branches but I think the blast went out rather than down.

“The driver ran round from the back of the carrier and he had been hit in the shoulder and also further down his back.

“That was twice in half an hour I had escaped with my life and I knew then that somebody was looking after me.”

After the war, Mr Robson, from Bishop Auckland, served with the Territorial Army and became a social worker with Durham County Council.

On Wednesday evening, around 100 people gathered from 6.30pm for the moving D-Day commemoration service.

Standards from The Royal British Legion, SSAFA, DLI Association, Malay and Borneo veterans and REME Association were displayed with music from Bishop Auckland Pipes and Drums.

The melancholy bars of The Last Post from Durham Light Infantry buglers preceded a two-minute silence during which the crowd contemplated the thousands who laid down their lives fighting fascism in northern France.

The event was organised by Michael Donne, chairman of SSAFA Durham, who organised the event with his wife, Ruth Wright, treasurer of SSAFA Wear Valley and secretary of the Bishop Auckland Royal British Legion.

Afterwards people approached Mr Robson to shake his hand, thanking him, and his generation, for the sacrifices they made to secure future freedoms.

Mr Robson said: “It is very important that we remember, because you don’t want it to happen again.”