D-Day veterans make up for lost time as bench unveiled

THEY both served in the operation that ultimately determined the outcome of the Second World War.

Friday, 31st May 2019, 3:08 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th June 2019, 5:59 pm

But until today blind D-Day veterans Ron Cross and Bob Jones – who live in Gosport and on Hayling Island – had never met.

The heroes, 99 and 94, swapped stories at Portsmouth Naval Memorial in the wake of the next week's D-Day 75 commemorations.

As many as 60,000 people will attend the spectacular on Southsea Common and Ron and Bob will meet hundreds of other veterans.

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Ron Cross from Gosport, left, and Bob Jones, from Hayling Island, chat as they listen to tales of the D-Day on a new talking bench unveiled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Picture; Ian Hargreaves (310519-4)

‘It’s the first time I’ve met this old fella and the fact he’s survived all this time and still has a great memory is amazing,’ said Ron, who served on Gold Beach as a Royal Engineer in the 79th Armoured Division.

Bob, who was a Royal Navy Commando on Sword Beach, joked: ‘He’s old enough to be my big brother.

‘I’ve got a lot of admiration for him because we all had a job to do and who knows what would’ve happened if we failed.’

The pair’s meeting was made possible as they were invited to the unveiling of a talking bench built for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Triggered by a sensor plate, the seat plays one of 12 heart-wrenching interviews with D-Day veterans whenever someone sits on it – fading to silence when they stand up.

Ron’s story is one of those featured – and he shed a tear as he became the first to hear it.

‘I’m very proud that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission have asked me to do this, very proud indeed,' he said.

‘The bench is amazing and this gives younger people a chance to listen to what happened.’

Bob added: ‘It’s a marvellous thing and I hope lots of people use it.

‘This is a clever way to convey these stories.’

Made of sturdy tropical Iroko wood, the three-person seat was made by Sheffield-based carpenter Finbarr Lucas and was installed as part of the commission’s Voices of Liberation project.

It will sit in its spot adjacent to Southsea Common until June 9.

On Ron and Bob’s visit to Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Dr Glyn Prysor, chief historian at the Commonwealth War Graves Commision, said: ‘Thousands of servicemen like them passed this iconic landmark on their way to the beaches of Normandy and for 75 years the CWGC has honoured the memory of those who never came home.

‘Everyone visiting Portsmouth is welcome to come and share this immersive and evocative experience and we hope that people will be inspired to contribute their own stories through our website.’

To learn more about the bench's stories or submit your own, go to liberation.cwgc.org