2 June 2019

During the May 2019 school half term holiday, 101 members from Durham Army Cadet Force (ACF) travelled to Normandy, France to participate in commemorations for D-Day landings. In this 75th anniversary year, the cadets and staff from across Durham ACF were able to look at and research key aspects of Operation Overlord, the main offensive of winning World War II.

We set off for Normandy on Wednesday 29th May and with the 6 hour drive to Dover, we managed to cram in two movies – The Longest Day and the Winston Churchill film The Darkest Hour.

During the trip the cadets visited Pointe-du-Hoc, OMAHA Beach, the Longues Battery, GOLD Beach, and Pegasus Bridge and Museum, all important aspects of D Day. We were also able to have the huge honour of visiting the Bayeux and Ranville War Cemetery’s. Cadets were moved by these particular parts of the visit given the similar ages of the fallen soldiers during Word War II. The visit culminated in a Drumhead Commemorative Parade at Arromanches, overlooking the Mulberry Harbour, speeches were read from war time leaders and a two minutes silence was observed before a wreath was laid by the youngest cadet.

Cadet Staff Sergeant Ben Harbottle, 17 from Birtley and Tyne & Wear Lord-Lieutenants Cadet said, “To be part of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings was an absolute pleasure. To represent the ACF at one of the most historic sites in military history was a honour. Seeing the beaches were the landings took place definitely put it in to perspective of how much of an achievement it was. To see Pegasus Bridge was also a pleasure as it’s were the Airborne became so renewed. I’d happily go back as you can never see enough”.

Cadet Corporal Grace Wilson, 16 from Jarrow said, "The Normandy D-Day tour was a once in a life time opportunity that anyone would be extremely lucky to experience.
Seeing the individual graves in the Bayeux Cemetery, naming each of the brave soldiers who fought for our freedom really put into perspective the trauma themselves and their families went through, and highlighted the need for celebration of their success, and the gratitude towards their sacrifice. I’m so grateful and proud that I was able to be a part of the 75th anniversary and to play my small part in honouring the memory of these brilliant people. I know that I will never forget the lessons this tour has taught and will hold them close to heart. I am proud to represent my detachment, my county, the army cadet force and my country.
Thank you, to those who made the experience so memorable, the organisers, and to those who gave their today for our tomorrow."

Cadet Lance Corporal Jack Rutherford, 15 from Jarrow said, “The opportunity to visit this amazing place and see landmarks of where people gave up their own lives to let us be free was a memorable and an upsetting time. The trip that we took part in was something no ordinary person would like to miss. The gratitude that I have to be able to see this place for myself and relive moments of what people once seen as a battleground is a memory I shall never forget. Also being able to visit the Bayeux Cemetery and see fallen soldiers that helped us to be where we are sparked an emotion for me. Being able to represent my county and country was a honour. I would like to thank those who made this trip possible and for those who sacrificed there lives so we could be free. Lest We Forget”.

In Bayeux Cemetery 15 year old Lance Corporal Lauren Stevenson from Chester le Street said “it makes you stop, think and compare your life now and their life growing up”. Lauren was moved by the words on one particular gravestone – the fallen Durham Light Infantry soldier T.L. Wheeler (20). ‘HE LEFT A HAPPY MEMORY, HAD YOU KNOWN THIS BOY OF OURS YOU WOULD HAVE LOVED HIM TOO’.

Cadet Colour Sergeant Nicholas Robinson, 16 from Consett said “the experience has been overwhelming, to listen to the stories of D Day was amazing. The men were so brave that I have the upmost respect for. I hope to have a successful regular army career and without Operation Overlord on D Day today would be a very different world, thank you”!

15 year old Cadet Corporal Connor Dale from Sunderland said, “Normandy was an amazing experience that I will never forget. It allowed all of us to better understand the historic landings and all that the courageous soldiers had to sacrifice in order for us to have the freedom and liberty we have today. The trip and the things I have learnt and felt will forever be etched into my heart and mind as one of the greatest and most humbling experiences I will ever know. I was so glad I had the opportunity to represent my detachment, County and Country on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. Also on a personal level my great uncle John Wood was a soldier in the Royal Norfolk Infantry who landed on Sword Beach but was killed in service and now rests in Douvres-la-Délivrance which made the experience all the greater for myself”.

Cadet Lance Corporal Amelia O'Brien, aged 15 from Ushaw Moor said, "Having the opportunity to go to Normandy for the 75th anniversary commemorations of the D-day landing was an exceptional opportunity which I am so grateful to have been given the privilege of going on. Before the trip, I knew very little about the landings and what really happened in early June 1944. Learning about the experiences of the incredible young men who fearlessly fought on the beaches was an eye opener for many reasons. I hadn't realised the sheer volume of the operation prior the the trip and it was quite overwhelming to discover. I also didn't know that some of the men who were there, and who died there, were the same age as some of the other cadets around me. It was crushing to think of myself, or my friends, being in their shoes. Going to the still pristine graves after visiting the beaches was staggering, as it all looked so fresh, new and current which made me feel like it had only happened yesterday. I found one man who had the same last name as me, which really brought the devastation closer to home because it highlighted the impact that not only D-day, but all of the Second World War had on the people who lived through it. Looking back over the beaches while silently remembering all those who died, while surrounded by so many other cadets in our final parade was amazing and yet again re-enforced how proud and grateful I am to all the thousands of brave men who were prepared to do anything so that today we can live the lives that we do.
I am so incredibly proud and thankful for the chance to be a part of this amazing visit. Thank you to all the staff and fellow cadets who made it and even more amazing trip to be on. Finally thank you to all the remarkable soldiers who fought for our freedom 75 years ago. We will remember them".

One of our adult volunteers, Captain William Oliver said, “this week I was able to visit the gravestone of my father’s uncle who was a paratrooper on D-Day. Sergeant Frank Milburn DCM served with the 12th Parachute Battalion and took part in the Normandy operations on D-Day during Operation Overlord and was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his actions in September 1944. Frank died on 6th June 1944 aged 29”.

15 year old Cadet Lance Corporal Reece Goodger from Blaydon said, “Normandy for me was a dream come true, I am fascinated by the second world war, and for me, it was extremely emotional. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I feel honoured to have went. I was overwhelmed when we went to the beaches, Pointe Du Hoc and Pegasus bridge. As to most people they’re normal places but for me, they’re something completely different. Learning more about the places and seeing the tanks, bridges, flak cannons and all sorts was breath-taking for me. The D-Day 75th visit was a complete dream”.

Colonel Brian Kitching, Commandant Durham ACF said “The cadets have had a thought provoking few days in France that will stay with them for years to come, I am thrilled to hear all of the positive comments from the trip. Thank you to all the volunteers for making it happen and the Army Cadet Force”.

The Army Cadet Force gives young people - from all walks of life - access to fun, friendship, action and adventure. We challenge young people to learn more, do more and more. We inspire them to aim high and go further in life, no matter what they aim to do. With 41,000 cadets and 9,500 adults in more than 1,600 locations around the UK, the Army Cadets makes a big impact on young people, parents and communities.