'Emotional and poignant': Reflections on the D-Day Commemorations

ALEX and JON with REGGIE PYE and French girl ROSE
ITV Wales' team and veteran Reggie Pye in Normandy during he D Day anniversary. Credit: ITV Wales
  • Our correspondent Alexandra Hartley travelled to Normandy to cover the historic D Day anniversary events with camera operator Jon Wilson.

Historians describe the sixth of June 1944 as the beginning of the end of the Second World War.

D Day saw the start of tens of thousands of British, US and Canadian troops coming together to break Germany’s hold on Europe.

For myself and camera operator, John Wilson, being at the 80th anniversary was a humbling experience, not least because it may be the last time many veterans who witnessed the horrors of this historic air and seaborne invasion, make the trip to Normandy.

Amongst the dwindling number of veterans still alive who made the pilgrimage to France, was 100 year old Reggie Pye from Burry Port.

Reggie Pye landed on Sword beach two weeks after D-Day when troops were still battling to capture coastal towns. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

We met him on Sword Beach; the very same shore he landed on eight decades earlier.

He told us it was “wonderful” to receive a hero's welcome on his return.

A Royal Engineer from 224 Fields company, he spent his time defusing mines and building bridges, helping Allied Troops work their way to Germany.

He travelled out with his friend Josie Williams who told us the horrors he witnessed from the moment he landed in Normandy and throughout the war, still haunt him.

It was incredible to see the reception Reggie and all the veterans received wherever they attended the commemorations.

Standing ovations, applause, people rushing over to shake their hands and simply say 'thank you'.

Josie Williams: “We’ve had police escorts everywhere. People were so pleased Reggie came all the way from Wales. He’s so proud to represent Wales”

During a parade at Colville-Montgommery we also met D Day veteran, John Dennett. He told us he felt overwhelmed at all the attention and people shaking his hand, but reflected it was important people knew what he and his friends had sacrificed to ensure people could enjoy the freedom we have today.

John Dennitt said “ It’s only on occasions like this, you can really take it in and realise what happened.

To come back 80 years later and share it and realise it brought our freedom. Freedom is a wonderful thing. When you get it you’ve got to hold onto it. I pinch myself and I’m so grateful to still be here and able to think about that day.”

Jack Hemmings, an RAF World War Two veteran, was travelling to pay his respects to friend, Stuart King. Credit: Mission aviation Fellowship

On the ferry journey over from Portsmouth, John and I also met RAF World War Two veteran Jack Hemmings.

He was travelling to Normandy to pay his respects to his friend, D Day veteran and RAF Engineer Officer, Stuart King- who was living in Cardiff when he was called up to serve as a Royal Engineer.

Remembering his friend during his visit he said; “Thinking about what happened to him around here and not only were they frequently attacking the German invaders of France, but the German airforce were attacking them and he could have quite easily been blown up, but he survived.”

The friends both served as pilots during the war, and together Jack and Stuart then went on to set up a charity called Mission aviation Fellowship or MaF, with the hope of using planes for peace.

Stuart King from Cardiff was a D Day veteran. Credit: Mission aviation Fellowship

The charity has gone on to deliver aid to some of the world’s most remote and inaccessible communities for over 75 years.

Whilst we were reporting at Arromanches, we also met a young family whose three children were playing on the beach where their great grandfather once fought. They told us they felt so grateful to do so.

It is hearing these personal connections to the landings that made the 80th anniversary of D Day feel very emotional and poignant.

It was an unforgettable experience and also served as a reminder of how precious life is and how freedom should never be taken for granted.

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