AS THE nation prepares to remember its war dead this week, three Second World War veterans are embarking on a 250-mile journey to Ypres to pay their own tribute.
Frank Rosier, 86, Jim Tuckwell, 88, and Harry Marrington, 87, will lay wreaths on Friday at the Menin Gate – a memorial to 54,896 missing British and Commonwealth troops who fell in battlefields near Ypres during the First World War and have no known grave.
The octogenarians, who all took part in the Second World War D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, will travel on a coach from Fareham to the Belgian town on Thursday.
Mr Rosier said: ‘We had the idea to go to Ypres because it is a very special place and this year the one minute silence at 11am will fall on 11-11-11 for the first time.
‘My dad and my grandad fought in the First World War so they will be fresh in my mind when we are there but it’s also about showing my respect and remembering all those boys in the First and Second World Wars who fought and died for our freedom.’
Mr Rosier, of Cowplain, who lost two brothers in the war, served in 2nd Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment, and landed on Gold Beach on D-Day aged 18.
He said: ‘I went back to Normandy last year in July and when we got off the coach people were surrounding us like we were pop stars. There were people from Sweden and Latvia there and I remember this one thing they kept saying – “thank you for our freedom”. They were just youngsters. It makes me extremely proud that people remember what we did and remember the people who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us.’
Mr Tuckwell is a Gosport-based veteran who was shot twice in the arm and chest during the D-Day landings but was sent back to the front line just six weeks later to help invade Germany and secure an Allied victory in 1945,
He said he will be remembering his father Edward, who served in the Royal Horse Artillery during the First World War.
He said: ‘I will be remembering my father, and I will also be remembering my mates who lost their lives. When I think about them, I realise I was one of the lucky ones.
‘When you sleep 30 to a room, you know everyone. They are your mates. It brings a tear to my eye to think they never had a life.’
The 88-year-old added: ‘I’ve been to Ypres a couple of times before.
‘We are getting older and I know I’ll be very tired by the end of it but it’s just something I have to do.’
SCENE OF BLOODY BATTLES
THE Belgian town of Ypres was the scene of some of the bloodiest battles of the First World War.
Figures vary but the Commonwealth War Graves Commission estimates more than 250,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers lost their lives during five battles in the area between 1914 and 1918.
Ypres was strategically vital for protecting the Allied ports of Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer – the shortest supply route to Allied forces on the Western Front.
The Menin Gate in Ypres pays tribute to more than 50,000 missing British Empire troops.
For 80 years, the Last Post has been played at the memorial every night at 8pm in remembrance.