Stortford D-Day veteran Cyril Banks home from Normandy in time for special service at war memorial – then a hero's meal at Wetherspoon's!
D-Day veteran Cyril Banks returned home from 75th anniversary commemorations in France to join a special service in Bishop's Stortford on Sunday morning (June 9) – and was treated afterwards to a free pub meal.
The 94-year-old Second World War Royal Navy veteran, who had returned to Normandy on Wednesday to attend special anniversary events, laid a wreath at the war memorial in Castle Gardens as part of a commemorative service organised by the Bishop's Stortford branch of the Royal British Legion.
Afterwards, he and several branch members retired to nearby Wetherspoon pub the Port Jackson in Riverside, where he was immediately offered a free meal.
Cyril was a teenage gunner aboard minesweeper HMS Ready, clearing a channel to Gold Beach on the night before the Allied forces' Normandy beach landings on June 6, 1944. Codenamed Operation Overlord, they marked the start of the largest ever combined sea, air and land assault by the Allies and a drawn-out campaign to liberate north-west Europe from German occupation.
More than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the battle, including over 209,000 Allied casualties.
In an interview in The Times last week, Cyril described looking out for enemy aircraft while his flotilla cleared 22 mines before reaching the beach at 2.30am on June 6, and then clearing areas for the bombarding battleships.
“We had come down from doing the Arctic convoys to Russia and then were practising minesweeping at night for a week on the South Coast before D-Day,” he said.
“You had to be on the ball all the time [watching for enemy planes]. Watching the landings is something you never forget, with all the explosions and men dying.
“An American plane came over [during the landings] and a man jumped out but his parachute twisted around his neck and throttled him. Some chaps went out where he landed in the sea and brought him on board. He was buried at sea with a little service, with what time we had.
“It was a very bad time because people were being killed and blown up. But now I feel quite proud of it all and to have been there to do what we did.”
In 2012 Cyril was presented with the Legion d'Honneur by France for his part in the operation.
At Sunday's service in Stortford, branch and women’s section members were joined by town mayor Cllr Norma Symonds and her predecessor, Cllr George Cutting. The Rev Tim Weeks officiated.
Branch president John Robinson told those gathered: "It is difficult to comprehend how these troops managed to get ashore and overcome the German defences.
"The whole nation was on tenterhooks hoping against hope that they would be successful in penetrating into France as this ultimately became the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime.
"It is our duty as free people to remember and give thanks to all those who took part in Operation Overlord in order that we as a nation could live peacefully."
Events to commemorate the 75th anniversary were held in Normandy and around the UK last week. Portsmouth, from where much of the landing force sailed in 1944, hosted a national event on Wednesday (June 5) which was attended by the Queen and US president Donald Trump, who recited the same prayer by his wartime predecessor Franklin D Roosevelt as Rev Weeks did on Sunday.
While 299 other Normandy veterans were transported across the Channel to Normany on board MV Boudicca, a specially-chartered ship funded by the Royal British Legion and a grant from the Treasury, to represent their famous crossing 75 years before, Cyril decided to make his own way, flying from Southend to extend his trip and spend extra time with friends in France.