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D-Day Normandy landings: The war heroes of 1944 who faced the firepower of Nazi Germany; Forget pop stars and footballers, these are the real heroes of Britain.

Byline: David Morton

The term 'hero' is thrown around like confetti nowadays; there are 'heroes' everywhere.

Pop stars, footballers, reality TV personalities and others are regularly conferred with heroic status by the media.

But, in early June 1944, for each of the tens of thousands of young men waiting nervously at points along the southern coast of England to be deployed across the English Channel to face the awesome firepower of Nazi Germany, the term 'hero' can be applied with absolute certainty.

Tomorrow marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of Operation Overlord, sometimes called the Battle of Normandy, and mostly referred to asD-Day.

One of the most momentous and ambitious military operations in history, a huge international Allied taskforce would attempt to land on the heavily defended beaches of Normandy, establish a foothold, before driving into France and pushing Hitler's forces back into Germany.

World War II had been raging since September 1939, but if the D-Day operation was successful, it would change the course of the war and mark the beginning of the end of a Nazi tyranny which had seen millions killed and displaced across Europe and other points around the globe.

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For the bulk of us who live our comfortable, cosseted 2019 lives moaning about 'first world' problems (the Metro is delayed; the internet isn't working properly; the supermarket has sold out of organic coffee beans), the experiences of those D-Day heroes are unimaginable.

The training for the mission had been intense and gruellingly realistic with many drowning in landing craft sinkings or falling victim to live ammunition.

The soldiers, sailors and airmen knew the big day was imminent but didn't know exactly when it would happen. The tension, the thoughts of what might happen, what might go wrong -- as Hitler's killing machine awaited them -- must have bordered on the unbearable.

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When it did finally happen, the rough seas of the English Channel had the soaked, petrified soldiers vomiting into their helmets.

And then the beaches. Millions of German mines awaited the Allies before the landing craft even reached the French shoreline and the miles of intractable barbed wire.

There were drownings, maimings, deaths, deafening noise and chaos, as the Germans opened up their machine guns and rained fire on the British, American and Canadian liberators who were trying to land while up to their necks in water.

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And there was heroism.

For anyone who has seen the 1998 film, Saving Private Ryan, the opening 10 minutes of carnage and destruction are a shock to the system.

When the Chronicle that year took a group of North East veterans to the cinema to see the film, they agreed it was the most true-to-life depiction of the horrors of the D-Day landings they had witnessed.

And what of the ordinary servicemen -- the fathers, the sons, the brothers? Many of us here in the North East will have forebears who were there. For myself, my late grandfather Stan Morton, from Dunston, was in the Royal Navy and worked on the Pipeline Under The Ocean (PLUTO) project, which would provide fuel for the massive Allied invasion force.

On the other side of the family, my grandfather's brother, Robert Ibbs from Jarrow, was a soldier who took part in the landings -- and survived. (He'd also been at Dunkirk four years earlier).

But 75 years on, the band of brave of D-Day veterans is inevitably thinning. The gentlemen in our photograph were revisiting the beaches of Normandy in June 1984 -- four decades on from the fateful day when they had stormed ashore as young soldiers in the Allied invasion force.

Others in the group had descended by parachute and taken part in the famous battle for Pegasus Bridge.

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For these North East men, mostly grandads in 1984, who accompanied Chronicle reporter Eric Forster and photographer Bill Payne to France for the major 40th anniversary ceremony, the years simply slipped away.

Eternal thanks and respect to Abe Armstrong of Cramlington; Frank Duffin of Slatyford; Bob Wilson of Walker; Joe Bowden, MBE, of Alnwick; John Cruikshanks of Whitley Bay; Joe Carr of West Moor; Ray Forster of Seaton Delaval -- and the others...

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Credit: Mirrorpix

The veterans in Normandy, June 5, 1984

Credit: Mirrorpix

North East D-Day veterans return to Normandy. From left: Abe Armstrong, Cramlington; Frank Duffin, Slatyford; Bob Wilson, Walker; Joe Bowden, MBE, Alnwick; John Cruikshanks, Whitley Bay; Joe Carr, West Moor; Ray Forster, Seaton Delaval. Arromanches, France, June 5, 1984

Credit: Mirrorpix

Joe Carr from West Moor with his granddaughter, Lindsey Anderson, 5, on Pegasus Bridge in Normandy, 40 years after Joe's participation in the D-Day landings, June 5, 1984
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Publication:The Chronicle (Newscastle upon Tyne, England)
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Jun 6, 2019
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