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D-Day 75 will not be marked in Gravesend

On this day in 1944 almost 160,000 men waded ashore on the beaches of northern France as liberation of Europe from the Nazis began.

It was D-Day, the largest seaborne invasion in history, and among the troops and sailors involved were many from Gravesend.

But 75 years on there is nothing planned in the town to mark their involvement in that pivotal moment in history - and council officials are now under fire for failing to arrange an official commemorative event.

Wallace Gooch in Gravesend. Picture: Steve Crispe
Wallace Gooch in Gravesend. Picture: Steve Crispe

Gravesend Merchant Navy Association has criticised the council and written to the chief executive officer David Hughes to express their disappointment.

He has said the council is "acutely aware of Gravesend’s historic role" but no request for a formal service was made by either the Royal British Legion or Merchant Navy Association.

Doreen Dillon, secretary of the association, said the lack of acknowledgement had sparked anger amongst Gravesend Merchant Navy Association members.

“We had a monthly meeting on Saturday and all our members are absolutely disgusted,” she said.

John Stanford, left, and Wallace Gooch marking the 70th Anniversary of VE Day, at Fort Gardens, Gravesend
John Stanford, left, and Wallace Gooch marking the 70th Anniversary of VE Day, at Fort Gardens, Gravesend

“It’s the lack of recognition, particularly as a lot of the tugs from Gravesend took part in the Dunkirk evacuation and the Normandy landings.”

She noted the contribution of two members in particular - Bill Harden, who died last year aged 92, and 93-year-old Wallace Gooch - who both received France’s Légion d’honneur for their contribution.

“Bill was a 15 or 16-year-old boy and was on a ship that went across with the troops for the relief of France,” said Mrs Dillon. “Subsequently he was on a ship that was bombed - after they came back and pulled the ship into London a doodlebug came over and sunk it.

“At the same time he was fighting, his uncle Eric Harden, who was a paramedic, got the George Cross for saving two people’s lives on a bridge in Belgium - the bridge is named after him now.

Bill Harden, recipient of the Legion d'Honneur
Bill Harden, recipient of the Legion d'Honneur

“Wallace Gooch took troops in Marseille - it was all part of the same effort.”

Even for those members of the association who didn’t take part, remembering the efforts of those who went before them is an important part of being in the association.

Last month, members were invited to The Not Forgotten Association Garden Party Tea on Thursday, May 23, at Buckingham Palace.

HRH The Duchess of Gloucester presided and was introduced to many of the invitees during the afternoon, which was attended by hundreds of associations from all over the country.

Colin Orsbourn, Doreen Dillon, Patrick Dillon, and Pat Orsbourn, of the Gravesend Merchant Navy at The Not Forgotten Association Garden Party Tea on Thursday May 23 at Buckingham Palace
Colin Orsbourn, Doreen Dillon, Patrick Dillon, and Pat Orsbourn, of the Gravesend Merchant Navy at The Not Forgotten Association Garden Party Tea on Thursday May 23 at Buckingham Palace

But ironically it seems forgotten is exactly what the association has been in its own town.

“We’re all a little bit miffed,” added Mrs Dillon. “Everything the council put on, we go along and fly the flag. We’ll be there for Armed Forces Flying the Flag on June 24; we took our standard down to the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne.

“We do all of that and for it not to be recognised is a poor show.

“I wrote a letter to the chief executive and delivered it by hand and asked for it to be taken to him, so he does know we were concerned that he hasn’t done anything.

“I was absolutely certain we would have heard from someone at the council, but I doubt they will do anything at this stage.

Bill Harden with Olivia Ashton CCF. Picture: Steve Crispe
Bill Harden with Olivia Ashton CCF. Picture: Steve Crispe

“I haven’t heard a word back. There’s not even a flag up - not even a Union Jack or St George’s Cross.

“We don’t forget these things. We don’t celebrate but we commemorate it - we remember. I think it’s a poor show.”

David Hughes, chief executive of Gravesham council, said: “The Gravesend Merchant Navy Association is right to highlight the immense bravery of those who served in the Merchant Navy protecting the convoys on which the country depended and of course serving alongside the Royal Navy during the D-Day landings where more than 1,200 Merchant Navy ships took part.

“The council is acutely aware of Gravesend’s historic role as a former centre of merchant shipping and will proudly fly the Red Ensign on Merchant Navy Day on September 3.

The standard bearers, from left, Wallace Gooch, Mike Hegarty and John Stanford
The standard bearers, from left, Wallace Gooch, Mike Hegarty and John Stanford

“Civic services to commemorate the sacrifices made by our Armed Forces and Merchant Seamen are arranged in partnership with the Royal British Legion and Merchant Navy Association.

“No request was received that a service be held to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings and inquiries that were made at county level suggested that this was regarded as primarily a remembrance that is being marked on behalf of the whole nation by Her Majesty the Queen.

“I am sure that the whole country will remember the heroism of all who took part in the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, and will honour those soldiers, sailors, airmen and merchant seamen who made the ultimate sacrifice to free the many countries of Europe under Nazi occupation.”

Yesterday, 34 wartime Dakotas flew across Medway and Maidstone.

There was also traffic chaos on a motorway as hundreds descend on a picnic area to watch.

Read more: All the latest news from Gravesend


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