On Wednesday 25th April, the KWVR welcomed 2 of the few remaining veterans of the British Forces who fought in the Second World War’s Normandy landings, to reconnect with their memories of 1940s railways
The duo of ninety-year-olds, Ken Smith and Ken Cooke from York, had a special day-out to Haworth to catch up with our own Second War veteran, American-built locomotive S160 2-8-0 5820 ‘Big Jim’.
Although the official Normandy Veterans Association has dis-banded, there being so few of the men who fought their way through the historic invasion on Hitler’s Europe still surviving, the York group decided to continue their get-togethers and the two sprightly veterans are still going strong despite a few ups and downs along the way. Sadly, a third veteran in the group, Douglas Petty was unable to attend due to ill health.
The photographs below depict the ‘2 Kens’ waiting for their train at Oxenhope and just a “few” years ago when aged 18 and in the army plus Douglas in his flying days.
The two former soldiers and one airman still like to stay in touch with each other and enjoy great days out. Ken Smith, 94, fought as a private solider with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. He laughed: “I’m Yorkshire-born yet the Army chose to put me with a regiment furthest away from my home county! Railways were part of our lives in the army. They were how you moved around.”
Ken continues, “I can recall one journey where we travelled in cattle trucks and had to crawl through small gaps in the vehicle sides carrying your rifle and scrambling over sleeping bodies to find a place to sit. “I put my rifle up against the truck wall but I didn’t realise it was a sliding door: when it opened my rifle fell out onto the track side. I had to get another one!”
Before his visit he said: “I’m really looking forward to visiting the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and seeing the locomotive. It’ll bring back many memories.”
Ken’s has a great interest in railways. He’s an honorary life member of the York-based Derwent Valley Light Railway Association and has been on the footplate of Sir Nigel Gresley’s legendary
express steam locomotive the ‘Flying Scotsman’.
Ken Cooke, 93 (lied about his age to join up at 16 years of age), was a private soldier in the Yorkshire-based infantry regiment, the Green Howards, has the distinction of having a railway locomotive named after him on the Derwent Valley Light Railway, near York.
Ken explained: “I used to work as an engineer at Rowntree’s confectionary in York and one day I was given a lift back from the far side of the factory site on a diesel locomotive. Fortunately the locomotive was saved from being scrapped and taken to the Derwent Valley Light Railway. In 2018 they took me by surprise when they took me to the railway to see it again and asked me to help with its naming ceremony. I was totally shocked when the curtain went back and saw it was named after me. Everybody had known what was happening, except me!”
Before his visit he added: “There’s not many of the Normandy Veterans left but we really look forward to seeing each other. It’ll be a great day out to the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway. I’m
really looking forward to seeing the locomotive and my mates again.”
Former bomber crew airman, Flying Officer Douglas Petty, now 96, was unable to attend due to ill health, but we caught up with him beforehand. He completes the trio of veterans invited to the KWVR. Douglas’ Second World War was based in Yorkshire. He explained: “I flew in Lancaster and Halifax bombers out of RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire. I completed 31 missions over enemy territory and was fortunate to survive, when you consider 47 per cent of RAF bomber crews ended up as casualties.”
Douglas also looks forward to reunions with his Veteran friends. He added: “I flew some missions over Normandy and was surprised when they awarded us the Croix de Guerre, the French nation’s
decoration. During the War I tended to see railways from 15,000 feet above the ground but I’m looking forward to our visit, to getting a closer a look at both Big Jim and the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway.”
Nick Bielby is the secretary of York’s Normandy Veterans Association. He said: “They’re a grand bunch of chaps and when the national organisation decided to cease operations, we decided to keep the veterans together for as long as they’re fit enough. They love their days out together. Mind you, because I’m a railwayman, the trips out tend to have a railway theme! Fortunately the veterans don’t seem to mind and still enjoy themselves.”
Despite the absence of their comrade, the 2 Kens had a wonderful day at the KWVR, they enjoyed a round trip behind locomotive no. 5820 and told Railway staff and volunteers stories from their time serving in the war.
It was a great honour for the Railway to host such a wonderful visit for Ken and Ken and we were delighted to have them join us for the day. Our staff and volunteers could have sat and listened to
their stories for hours. Hearing what they went through, truly brings to life the things that veterans of the past and today experience to keep us safe. Without these individuals, we would likely not be here as we are today.
In 2020 the veterans will be making their final honorary visit to Normandy, a very special occasion for all involved.