Veteran remembers D-Day as British Normandy Memorial is unveiled

Plaistow veteran Gilbert Clarke

Gilbert Clarke, who lives in Plaistow, shared his memories of D-Day as a young RAF recruit training in Britain. - Credit: Alan Clarke

A veteran from Plaistow has shared his memories of D-Day as a memorial honouring British soldiers who died in Normandy was unveiled in France.

About 100 veterans and their families watched a live broadcast of the unveiling from the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on Sunday - the 77th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

The British Normandy Memorial, located the French coastal town of Ver-sur-Mer, records the names of the 22,442 servicemen and women under British command who were killed on D-Day and the fighting that followed.

Gilbert Clarke at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire

Gilbert Clarke joined other veterans and their families at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire to watch the unveiling of the memorial in Normandy. - Credit: Alan Clarke

Plaistow man Gilbert Clarke, who used to live on Barking Road and who in 1943 lied about his age and left his family and friends behind in Jamaica to volunteer for the RAF, gave a speech at the event.

“I volunteered like so many millions of others from Britain, the Commonwealth and elsewhere out of a sense of duty, to fight for king and country, to play my part like all the veterans here today in ensuring we left the world a better place for everyone,” he said.

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Mr Clarke shared his memories of D-Day as a young recruit training in Britain.

“We had been on high alert for some time and I had been on fire picket duty,” he said.

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“Those duties were especially important. A fire in the night was very dangerous as enemy aircraft could pick out targets readily.” 

On June 6, 1944, now known as D-Day, Mr Clarke was in class studying new radar technology when the pupils heard a loud, droning noise.

“We all rushed outside to see what was happening.

“It was hundreds and hundreds of aircraft of all kinds, you could hardly see the sky.

“Our tutor, Chiefy Brown, said: ‘It's started boys!’ and everyone started cheering and waving them on. 

“That was when we first knew D-Day was underway.” 

Mr Clarke recalled thinking two things; firstly, he hoped D-Day would mean the war would soon be over, and secondly, he wanted to finish his studies so he could play his part in ending the conflict quickly.

“D-Day bought us hope,” Mr Clarke said.

“It was a day I won’t forget and I am proud to do my part to ensure that the memory of what so many did on that day, is kept alive."

The Taxi Charity for Military Veterans organised Gilbert's travel arrangements. 

Gilbert Clarke with members of the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans

Gilbert Clarke with members of the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans - Credit: Alan Clarke

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