A 95-YEAR-OLD Newport veteran is to return to the beach where he fought during the D-Day landings 70 years ago to be honoured with a service and medal.
It will be the first time Frank James has been back to Gold Beach - where he and his comrades in the Royal Dragoons landed, one of 25,000 Allied troops brought into Normandy via that beach on June 6 1944.
By midnight on D-Day, 400 Allied servicemen had lost their lives on Gold Beach.
Mr James, who was a trooper in the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, will tomorrow return to Normandy with a team of three other Newport men to be part of the commemorative events held to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
He and fellow Royal Welsh Comrades members Richard Crew, 70, David Smith, 75 and Mr Crew’s friend Gerald Lee, 62, will set off tomorrow to catch the ferry to Cherbourg.
They will spend a week in France, travelling around in Mr Crew’s camper van before meeting up with Mr James’ fellow Royal Dragoons veterans.
The group will take part in several commemorative events, including laying poppy crosses at the Bayeux war cemetery as a mark of respect to Mr James’ fallen comrades.
Then, on Friday June 6, exactly 70 years to the day since the landings, Mr James and seven other D-Day veterans from across the UK will be honoured during a ceremony which will see the Mayor of French town Creully present them with the town’s honorary Gold Beach Medal.
The Royal Dragoons liberated Creully on June 6 and there is a memorial dedicated to them in the town.
Mr James was working at Lysaght’s when news of the Second World War broke and he heard on the wireless the call for reservists to report to barracks.
As he was in the 1st Monmouthshire, a Territorial Army unit, he knew he was needed. Mr James was assigned barrack duties before being transferred to the Royal Welsh and then 60 Training Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps, where he learned to drive three-tonne lorries and tanks before he was posted to 4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards at Banbury, Oxfordshire, as D-Day approached.
On June 6 1944, D-Day, the British 50th Infantry division landed at Ver-sur-Mer as part of the Normandy landings, Operation Overlord.
A 1,200-plane airborne assault preceded the amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on June 6, and more than three million allied troops were in France by the end of August.
On the day of the greatest amphibious invasion in the world’s history, Mr James and his lorry landed on Gold Beach, where his sergeant was almost immediately shot and killed by a German sniper. On Friday he will meet the daughter of that sergeant for the first time, and they will visit his grave and lay wreaths in his memory.
Mr James told the Argus: “This is my first time visiting Gold Beach since the landings in 1944. I’ve been to France for other memorial events, but never to the beach. I expect it will bring back quite a few memories.
“When we went over I was in the ship all night because we were transporting the ammunition for the tanks. Before we could get on the beach we were under heavy German shellfire from the shore – that was the first bit of action I experienced there.”
When asked if he was honoured to be receiving the medal from the French town, he said: “I didn’t go for bloody medals – but it’s nice of the French to recognise what we did. They are always friendly when we go over, I think they remember how badly they were treated by Germany during the war.”
His trip has been funded by the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return Two, awarding grants for Second World War veterans or their widows to return to where they saw active service and attend memorial events in the UK.