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D-DAY landings REVISITED

PUBLISHED: 17:39 03 June 2009 | UPDATED: 11:27 12 August 2010

D-DAY LANDINGS: remembering 65 years ago

D-DAY LANDINGS: remembering 65 years ago

The D-DAY anniversary brings back sad memories. You face up to things as they come because you have to or they drag you back down but I always feel sad at the thought of what those men went through waiting to cross the Channel. As millions prepare to m

MEMORIES: Wyn Bryan

The D-DAY anniversary brings back sad memories. You face up to things as they come because you have to or they drag you back down but I always feel sad at the thought of what those men went through waiting to cross the Channel."

As millions prepare to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day this Saturday, one veteran recalls the day which she described as "the worst day of her life".

Wyn Bryan, 89, had only married Bill Bryan four months before he landed on the Juno beach in Normandy in June 1944 along with 156,000 other men.

An infantry soldier with the Royal Berkshires, Mr Bryan was one of the lucky ones who one month after the historic event could finally get word to his wife, who was serving in the Air Force, that he was alive.

Mrs Bryan, whose son-in-law John Rosenbaum is President of Petts Wood Royal British Legion, said: "It was the worst day of my life. I had been in Bournemouth with the Air Force until they moved us to Gloucester just before it. They kept it all secret but I just knew somehow that he was involved in something major. I realised when I heard all the bombers coming back that something was happening.

"I was with lots of women whose husbands fighting. Bright sparks where I was stationed said to me 'you'll be a widow in a week'. Thank God he came through it.

"It was a very worrying time. I didn't hear anything for some weeks and then I got sent a card which only read 'I'm well'. I was so relieved about it and I took a trip right away to see my mother-in-law to tell her. Our best man for our wedding, Arthur, was killed out there. Bill went right up until the end in Berlin."

Up to 3,000 Allied troops died on D-Day alone while 9,000 were wounded or went missing. Many that perished drowned before ever making it to the beaches.

Mrs Bryan recalled: "Bill was well over 6ft and when he was told to get off the 'ducks' as they called them he joked that the water only came up to his ankles. He was very lucky, he got to the beach sooner than a lot of the others.

"He spent about 10 days on the beaches, continually unloading goods from the boats then he was moved to an orchard at the back of a café. He never liked to talk about the things he saw, he used to say it was too horrible to talk about. He would never brag.

"After that he went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge which we won, not the Americans even though they like to take all the glory. I know because my husband was there," she says proudly.

Mrs Bryan did not see her husband for a year after the landings until he was granted leave. She said: "I was so happy when I did. I was very relieved."

Mrs Bryan added: "I have never celebrated so much as I did on VE Day. I was still with the Air Force but I remember sliding down the drainpipe from my window to celebrate with the masses. We had to do something stupid. We were just a group of young people who had never had a chance to be young."

The couple were reunited in 1946 and went on to have two children, Christine and Trevor. Mr Bryan died nearly 50 years later in 1995.

D-Day veteran John Roots, 86, from Kent, was almost moved to tears when he returned to Normandy in Easter this year, 65 years on.

The Merchant Navy veteran was involved in the greatest engineering feat of WWII - the Mulberry Harbour.

Built in secret the harbour - bigger than Dover's current port and harbour - was towed across the English Channel from Poole to be put together off the coast of Normandy.

There it remained for several months, its workers supplying frontline troops with food, ammunition and equipment. Many workers on the floating masterpiece never reached the beach but all could see the horrors it had borne.

During a visit to the D-Day museum he was treated like a returning hero and asked to sign the 'Golden Book' when staff heard he helped build the harbour.

He added: "There were children all talking in French and I asked what they were saying. 'They are thanking you Sir, they are thanking you for building the harbour'.

"I am so glad I went back it was very emotional, I did not know how I would feel. Going on the anniversary would have been too much, too emotional but it is important we remember."

Recalling the horrors he witnessed, he said: "The beach was filled with bodies when I arrived. So many brave men were simply cut down by gunfire and left to die in agonising pain.

"We must remember what they did, they fought for the freedom we have today and paid the ultimate price."

katherine.nelson@archant.co.uk

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