D-DAY 75: Spalding, Long Sutton and Wyberton heroes in Normandy
If it was to be the final time that Harold Payne takes veterans back to Normandy, it could not have been better.
The Anglia Pilgrimage Fund, which has been fundraising and making the trips to battlefields and cemeteries annually for more than 20 years, took two coachloads for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
With dwindling numbers and some too frail to travel so far now, this year there were four veterans - Jack Burton (94), of Long Sutton; John Summerson (97), from Spalding; Ernie Covill (94), of Wyberton; and Sid Barnes (93), of Watton, Norfolk.
Mr Payne - himself aged 78 - was determined to make this year's trip extra special and achieved that in a couple of ways. For the first time, he took young people too and arranged for them to lay single roses on all 6,661 graves in Ranville and Bayeux cemeteries.
The youngsters from Holbeach and Spalding, students from Long Sutton's Peele Community College, and scouts and marines from Norfolk, will no doubt have learnt much and got a greater understanding of the scale of the losses in Operation Overlord which signalled the start of the end of World War Two. One clip of a youngster saluting each grave after laying a rose had been viewed more than three million times within 48 hours.
The second great achievement by Mr Payne this year was taking two of the veterans out on to the water at Arromanches. In a restored DUKW amphibious vehicle, 1,000 roses were thrown into the sea to commemorate those who didn't make it ashore in 1944.
Mr Payne said: "It was the first time I'd had the DUKW in the water and I'm pleased to have done it for our boys. I was keeping a promise I'd made."
He added: "The whole trip was marvellous. All the young people we took were a credit to themselves, their families and their schools and organisations.
"Hopefully they have made some memories which they will pass on to their children and grandchildren."
Mr Payne has said it was the last time he will take veterans back - but the men themselves have different ideas. Yet one more example of their fortitude and courage.
Archie Morant (13), of Moulton, is a member of Spalding Air Cadets and Moulton and Whaplode Scouts.
He's "mad about history", according to mum Alison, who joined him on the trip.
Archie made a commemorative plaque in an after-school club at Spalding Grammar School.
He said: "I think it's really important that we remember those who died. For those who have the chance to visit Normandy, I would recommend it."
Ernie Covill was a driver in the Royal Army Service Corps and landed at Arromanches on D-Day +1. Last Thursday he was clapped and cheered and thanked by people from many countries.
The 94-year-old, from Wyberton, said: "It's marvellous - I felt like royalty. You can't really put it into words what it means. It's so nice to see all the people, especially the youngsters."
For 94-year-old Jack Burton, of Long Sutton, it was his first time in Normandy since he arrived with the Royal Ulster Rifles on D-Day +1 and pushed through to Bayeux. He was away from home in Tydd Gote, where he lived with his mother, for three years.
"She said she didn't want me to go," Jack said. "You didn't know what you were going to go into but you went and you did what you had to do.
"I sent her letters and she sent some cakes when I was in Egypt."
At the time of D-Day, John Summerson (97), of Spalding, was in the Desert Rats in North Africa, having already served three years.
"I lost relatives and many friends," said John, who had been on Mr Payne's trips for about 20 consecutive years before 2018 when he was seriously ill. He was determined to return this year.
He added: "I fully admire Harold. It's wonderful how he's done it all over the years. I'd certainly like to come again next year if I'm well enough."
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