Archive for October 24th, 2011

D-Day vets meet by chance on same Normandy beach

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Bill Betts and Clifford Baker were brothers-in-arms and friends who stormed Gold Beach, the center of the five designated landing beaches (Gold, Sword, Juno, Omaha and Utah) in Normandy, together on D-Day, June 6, 1944. After training together for two years as radio operators, Bill and Clifford were among the first Allied troops to land ashore. Bill was almost immediately shot in the leg by machine-gun fire. The last they saw of each other, Bill was encouraging Clifford to keep going and leave him behind.

Bill remained motionless under sniper fire on that beach for ten hours before US troops airlifted him to a hospital. He recovered and rejoined his regiment, but Clifford was no longer with them. Given the high casualty rate among the D-Day troops Bill assumed Clifford had never made it off the beach. He had, though. He had just been assigned to a new unit and he too believed that his friend had died on Gold Beach.

Fast-forward 67 years to this summer when Bill Betts was visiting the D-Day Museum at Arromanches. He signed the remembrance book and saw right above his signature a blast from the past: the signature of one Clifford Baker.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw his name but there it was in black and white,’ said Bill, now 88, “I’d just been given a commemorative medal by the Mayor of Arromanches so “I asked her when Mr Baker had been into the museum. She said it was only 20 minutes before and that his coach was now boarding in the car park. I decided I had to take the chance to catch him.”

Bill scoured the car park in search of his missing friend. Meanwhile the mayor frantically gave an order for departing coaches to be stopped.

Then, to cheers and applause, Clifford came down the steps – and into the embrace of his former comrade.

They were part of completely separate groups from different parts of the country. Bill is 88 and that Clifford is a decade older at 98. What are the odds that they would meet again on Gold Beach after three score years of thinking each other killed on that same spot.

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