The College was delighted to welcome back Nicholas Witchell (R 1967-71), the BBC’s Royal Correspondent, who gave the first of this year’s Lord Rosebery lectures on 11th November. In a fitting conclusion to the College’s Remembrance events, Nicholas delivered an evocative insight into the work he and others have undertaken to establish the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer.
It is the culmination of six years work by the Normandy Memorial Trust, finally, to honour the 22,442 men and women under British command who lost their lives on D-Day and in the Battle of Normandy.
While the USA and Canada had fitting memorials to the fallen, there was no such British memorial. It was George Batts MBE, one of the first British soldiers to land on ‘Gold Beach’ on D-Day, who pointed this out to Nicholas in 2015, and asked on behalf of fellow Normandy veterans for Nicholas’ help to turn their dream of building a memorial into reality.
In 2016, Nicholas set up the Normandy Memorial Trust, with George as Normandy Veteran Patron, and successfully persuaded the British Government to provide the lion’s share of the £30m needed for the project. The perfect site was found on a gentle hillside overlooking Gold Beach, 60 acres were acquired, the design chosen and the task to compile the Roll of Honour began.
Harry Billinge MBE described his visit to the memorial as his ‘last duty’ to pay tribute to his fallen friends.
On 6th June 2021, George’s dream was finally realised when the Trust’s Patron, The Prince of Wales, officially opened the memorial. However, due to the pandemic, it wasn’t until early November that a group of D-Day veterans, including George and Harry Billinge MBE, were able to travel to France. Harry, who independently raised over £50,000 for the memorial, described this as his ‘last duty’ to pay tribute to his fallen friends who died during the landings in 1944.
Nicholas concluded the talk by encouraging those present to visit the memorial, where they would find the names of the four Old Epsomians who died in the conflict: Lt Cdr Raymond Holland, Royal Navy; Flt Lt Arthur Khan, Royal Air Force; Lt William Lewis, Royal Dragoon Guards; Pte Kenneth Mitton, South Staffordshire Regiment.
The Normandy Memorial Trust seeks ‘Guardians’ to help safeguard the future of the memorial, which costs several hundred thousand pounds a year to maintain. Further details on how to support the Trust can be found at: www.britishnormandymemorial.org. One such Guardian is Peter Dodd (R 1943-47), who was instrumental in encouraging Nicholas to return to his alma mater to give the talk.
The lecture was recorded on the evening by former OE Magazine editor, Steve McCubbin (C 1969-73), and can be heard via the link below: