Big thank you from

Plea for help with cost of poignant visit to Normandy

by Rev Canon Alex Cheevers
Retired Lisburn clergyman Rev. Alex Cheevers had hoped to mark this year's 65th anniversary of the D Day landings by taking a party of local veterans to the Normandy beaches. Sadly, his plans have been hit by the credit crunch and he is keen to hear from anyone willing to help individual veterans meet the cost of this emotional trip.

Troops leave landing vessels during the D-Day landings in Normandy which marked the start of the Allied liberation of Nazi occupied Europe.

Troops leave landing vessels during the D-Day landings in Normandy which marked the start of the Allied liberation of Nazi occupied Europe.

THIS year is the 65th anniversary of the D Day landings of June 6, 1944, when thousands of British, American and other troops landed in Normandy to begin the liberation of Europe from Nazi domination.

I have often visited those beaches and air-landing areas, and every time I go I always come away so thankful that I never had to face the things that those men had to face in attacking Hitler's Atlantic Wall. It must have taken unbelievable courage and commitment to face those German guns. Thankfully I did not have to live through - or die in - that horror. But I have enormous respect for those who did, whether they faced that horror in Normandy or in some other part of the world.

With that in mind, for the last year I had planned in early 2009 to try to raise financial sponsorship from major business and commercial enterprises in Northern Ireland to enable me to take a full coach of D Day Veterans back to visit the Normandy beaches and countryside.

It was in Normandy that these people fought and gave so much. And it was there that they left so many of their friends lying in one of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemeteries that cover the countryside.

Such a large-scale return visit of Veterans would have been one way of honouring all Second World War Veterans, (a rapidly decreasing group) letting them know their giving is still remembered and appreciated by a younger generation.

However, the economic downturn and credit crunch came along just when I would have been starting to visit businesses asking for the necessary funding. I could not have hit a worse time to try to raise such funding. Reluctantly I have dropped that more ambitious scheme. But I would still like to see those veterans being honoured, even if it be through enabling a smaller, symbolic group to return to Normandy.

What I have now done is reserve for Veterans up to six places on the regular Tour that I have already organised for May this year to the D Day Landing areas of Normandy. This is an appeal to see if any business within the readership of The Ulster Star would feel able to sponsor a Veteran on a return visit to Normandy. From contacts I have already made, I am hopeful that sponsorship for one, or maybe two, Veterans will be forthcoming. But nothing is assured. A maximum of six places will be available.

I have had to set out certain criteria as to how I would select those who would go on such a complimentary trip. News of the availability of a very small number of complimentary Veteran places on this tour would be sent out, all mailed on the same day, by the Central Office of the Royal British Legion to all their Northern Ireland local Branches. This information would tell members that the complimentary places would be allocated on a first-come basis - but governed by the following criteria. Priority would be given as follows:

  1. Veterans who have never since D Day been able to make a return visit to Normandy, and who took part in the operations on the actual D Day, 6th June 1944. They could have participated that day on the land, from the air over Normandy, or as part of the naval forces enabling the landings to take place.
  2. Those who today live in Ireland, or who lived in Ireland at the time of their enlistment - and who would be able to travel unaccompanied, and willing to share a twin-bedded room with another Veteran.

Consideration would also be given in a situation where there is a prioritising factor such as terminal illness. All I can offer sponsors in return for their generosity is their photograph in The Ulster Star, acknowledging the sponsor's generosity even in the midst of a recession. I also would hope a sponsor would have the satisfaction of knowing they have honoured a Veteran who thoroughly deserves that honour.

Cost of sponsoring a Veteran would be £479. If you think you could help, I would appreciate an early response to enable the scheme to get under way.

If you would like more information, then please give me a ring. A telephone call to me will not put you under any obligation. My number is 9269 0701.

Ulster Star