Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips

Harold Dudman 1923-2009

Sue Ahsan visited Normandy for the 65th anniversary commemorations of D-Day with her parents, Harold and Lesley Dudman. She was expecting it to be an emotional experience, but she never imagined quite how emotional it would be.

My father Harold Dudman landed at Sword Beach in June 1944, as part of the REME 11th/29th Armoured Division. He was very excited by the prospect of returning to Normandy 65 years later, and we arranged a trip with his old comrade Harry Hart and his daughter Pauline, who were returning to visit the grave of Harry’s brother Bill, killed during the invasion.

Harold, 86, and Harry, 89, were like two excited little boys setting off from London on 4 June. There was a wonderful atmosphere on our bus, with a number of old soldiers and their families, serving soldiers and members of the British Legion. Everyone got along very well and we felt like we’d known them for ages.

The veterans got a wonderful reaction from the Normandy people, young and old, who all wanted to shake their hands and thank them. Some people on the pavements saluted as we drove by.

The weather dawned warm and sunny on 5 June and we set off early to visit Ranville War Cemetery. We watched a re-enactment of the parachute drop which began the Normandy invasion, followed by a service of remembrance complete with marching bands.

We then went to Pegasus Bridge where there was a carnival atmosphere and had lunch at the Café Gondrée – the first building in France to be liberated.

My dad was wearing his old regimental tie and was thrilled when some serving soldiers from his regiment came over, shook his hand and chatted with him.

Our next stop was totally unscheduled, yet turned out to be the most poignant moment of our trip. Unplanned, we visited Sword Beach. My dad had twice before visited Normandy but had never recognised any parts of the beach, yet when we reached this particular stretch, he instantly knew it to be the exact point where he had landed in 1944. He could recall so much from that day and told us a lot about it which I had never heard before. It obviously meant a great deal to him.

That evening dad decided to prepare for the following day and went to his room early. Sadly, he did not wake up again and passed away at 3am on 6 June – D-Day.

Mum and I were obviously in a state of shock. While making arrangements for returning dad to England, we decided to attend a ceremony at Arromanches.

The mayor presented D-Day veterans with a badge as a gift from the people of Normandy and mum received dad’s badge.

We have no regrets at having made the trip. In many respects it seems that destiny played its part, and that things were actually meant to happen this way.

Of course, we miss dad dreadfully, but we shall always have such great memories of how happy he was on that last day and how thrilled he was, at last, to be able to find ‘his beach’.

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