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‘War is horror, and you don’t forget it’

75 years on, D-Day veterans lay wreaths and remember fallen comrades at memorial service

07 June, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

John Abbott and Ken Watts laying a wreath

VETERANS of the D-Day landings said they were remembering the faces of friends who died 75 years ago as a memorial service was held in Islington.

John Abbott and Ken Watts, both 94, laid wreaths at the war memorial in Islington Green in Upper Street yesterday (Thursday).

Mr Watts, of Lofting Road, Barnsbury, was part of the first wave of infantry who landed on Gold Beach in 1944 under heavy gunfire from the Germans.

He said: “I consider myself lucky that I returned. War is horror and you don’t forget it. You dream about it sometimes when you see your comrades.

Mayor Rakhia Ismail with veterans at the ceremony at Islington’s war memorial

“Particularly this one guy. He turned to me and said: ‘There they are Ken.’ They were the last words he gasped. The bullet could have hit me but it hit him.”

Mr Watts added: “We were lucky because our landing craft didn’t land in the spot it should have done. We landed further north, so instead of meeting the enemy head-on we met them side-on, as it were. This helped us take the beach.”

A bugler played the Last Post before a minute’s silence

Commemoration events were held across the country and in northern France to mark the 75th anniversary of the largest combined land, air and naval operation in history.

By night-time on June 6, 1944, about 156,000 Allied troops had landed on Normandy’s beaches and by the end of D-Day they had established a foothold in France.

Mr Abbott, of Milner Square, Barnsbury, was part of the navy force who shipped the troops to Juno Beach.

John Abbott and, right, as a young man in the navy

The great-grandfather-of-four said: “On days like today I remember the faces of the five men I was with who were killed on D-Day.

“We were by the beaches for about three weeks, then I went back to the UK and I have never been back.”

He was offered a chance to go to Normandy this year but he turned it down because he thought it should be kept for the “guys who went over the side” who landed on the beach.

He added: “I didn’t do anything courageous like that. I was on board the ship playing my part and I was there. I don’t talk about it often.

D-Day veteran Ken Watts

“Some friends five years ago who I had known for 50 years were amazed to find out I was on D-Day. It’s not something you drag into a conversation.

“My children and grandchildren have all said that they’re proud that we did our bit.”

Islington’s mayor Rakhia Ismail also laid wreaths with the Lord Lieutenant Charles Goodson Wickes.

Father Nigel Williams conducted the service.

He said: “We are here to remember the cost of war and commit ourselves to work to sustain the peace and unity of nations. We are here to remember, to recognise and give thanks for the sacrifice and suffering of those who travelled to France that day.”

A bugle played the Last Post at 11am before a minute’s silence was held in honour of the men and women who died in the war.

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