FIRST MINISTER Mark Drakeford is today asking Wales to unite in a two-minute silence at 11am, to mark 75 years since the end of the Second World War in Europe.
From the steps of the Welsh Government buildings in Cardiff, the First Minister will encourage the country to “draw on the inspiration of those who lived through the Second World War, to help us deal with our own unique piece of history”.
Throughout this week, the First Minister and Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government Hannah Blythyn have been speaking with Second World War veterans via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and over the phone.
The Ministers thanked the veterans – aged between 96 and 103 – for their “unimaginable courage” while listening to their extraordinary stories.
People across Wales are being asked to stay at home today as they celebrate VE Day and continue to protect the NHS and save lives.
As part of a UK VE Day celebrations, the RAF will fly a Typhoon jet over Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, reaching speeds of 350mph. In London, the Red Arrows will be spotted in the skies.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said:
“Speaking with all veterans this week and listening to their extraordinary accounts of torpedo attacks and near misses, brought home the incredible grit and determination of an entire generation who lived through the Second World War.
“All of us can look to them for inspiration, to help us deal with our own unique piece of history.
“I want to thank each and every person across the commonwealth who battled fascism and helped to build the foundations of a society, which we all benefit from today.
“Coronavirus means we must celebrate VE Day in our own homes, but it will not change our determination to pay our tributes. At 11am let’s stand still, fall silent and remember all those who lived, and those who sadly lost their lives for us.”
Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government Hannah Blythyn said:
“During the week in which we pay tribute to a generation which sacrificed so much for Victory in Europe, it was a pleasure and a privilege to speak to veterans of the Second World War.
“I heard some amazing and inspirational stories about their service and I thank them again for all they have done for their country and what they continue to do.”
Antony Metcalfe, Area Manager Wales for The Royal British Legion said:
“As we face some of the most challenging times since the Second World War, now more than ever it is important to unite in recognition of people’s service to the nation, just as communities did 75 years ago.
“There is no right or wrong way to take part in the silence at 11am – some people may wish to stand at their windows or step outside their front door, but we hope individuals and families in Wales will embrace the opportunity to share in a national moment of reflection.
“Then later on, we invite people to open their windows wide and join us to celebrate and give thanks as we singalong to Dame Vera Lynn’s wartime classic, We’ll Meet Again, which has added poignancy in the current circumstances.
“There are many parallels between the struggles of the Second World War and what we are going through today. As we mark 75 years since Victory in Europe, we look to our Second World War generation to learn from their experiences, and the Legion continues our critical work to protect them from the threat we currently face.”
To get involved in the VE day celebrations you can:
Take part in a two minute silence at 11am
Celebrate in your own homes– for ideas go to https://ve-vjday75.gov.uk/
Take to social media using hashtags #VEDay75 #DiwrnodVE75, to share your family stories and to say Thank You
Sing We’ll Meet Again on your doorstep at 9pm
Those veterans who spoke with the First Minister for VE Day included;
Gordon Prime – Army (Pembroke Dock)
Gordon Prime received the Legiond’Honneur medal for his heroism as a motorcycle dispatch rider. He began at Pegasus Bridge at the heart of the Normandy landings and was still serving when Nazi Germany was defeated. Mr Prime had been helping Welsh Government with a project to combat Social Isolation, before the coronavirus pandemic. Gordon is currently writing a book on his life and experience of WW2 and the D-Day Landings.
Mr Ray Taylor – RAF (Ton Pentre, Rhondda)
At 94 years old, he served in the RAF between 1942 and 1946 as an Air Engineer. He Completed 48 mission and flew 12 Bomber Command missions with Number 78 Squadron. Ray also volunteered for service with Number 138 Squadron who performed special duties including resupply drops during Warsaw uprising when he flew from Brindisi, Italy. He Worked with Welsh Government for the RAF100 Aircraft Tour in 2018
Mr Alan Higgins – Royal Navy (Bridgend)
Alan is 96 years old and joined the Royal Navy in September 1939 aged 15-yrs-old where he started his duties as a boy telegraphist.
His first assigned ship was the HMS Edinburgh, which took part in the Malta and Russian Convoys. Alan said: “One convoy involved transporting 5 tons Russian gold to Britain as payment for armaments supplied by the USA and the UK. At around 4pm there was a terrific explosion and blinding flash caused by three torpedoes from a German U-Boat. Fighting continued for three days before the Edinburgh sank with a loss of 67 men. Survivors were taken to Russia where we stayed for five months eating little more than black bread and watery soup.
“In February 1943, I joined an American landing craft which carried soldiers to various Italian ports including Anzio and Salerno. It was during this time I witnessed the last eruption of Vesuvius whilst anchored in Naples Bay.
“In May 1944 I returned to Britain in preparation for D-Day. Our landing craft left Newhaven for Sword beach every day but it was the first journey which resulted in many troops being killed or wounded. No medical personnel were aboard so I was charged with administering morphine to the wounded. I even had to cut off a soldier’s leg, which was just hanging by the sinews, with a bread knife.
“For the remainder of the war I stayed in the Mediterranean on combined operations.
“When the official announcement came of the German surrender, I was in Malta. All sailors had to abandon ship to form a victory march pass before the Maltese Governor and officials.”
Mr Walford Hughes MBE – Army (Aberystwyth)
Walford served in the forgotten army during World War 2 in Burma and Far East.
Following the war he became National Secretary of the Burma Star Associations and received an MBE for his series to the Association.
In January, he celebrated his 100th birthday. He is a Welsh speaker.
Mrs Edna Leon (nee Willis) – Army Catering (Wrexham)
Lt Cpl Willis ATS 1942 to 1944, Edna was posted to Wrexham in 1942 as a chef to Royal Signals, Royal engineers and Royal Pioneer Corps.
Lt Cpl Willis and her colleagues fed up to 6,000 men per sitting! In 1944.
Lt Cpl Wills took a posting abroad to Normandy after the landings where she served as a chef in Belgium and with occupational forces Germany. She is 99-years-old
Mr Joe Norton- Merchant Navy (Barry)
Mr Norton is 94 in May and served at sea between 1943 and 1951 in the Catering Department, joining his first ship the SS Scandia on 5 May 1943 at the age of 16.
He was awarded the War Medal, Atlantic Star, Italy Star and the 1939-45 Star.
Veterans who spoke with Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government Hannah Blythyn:
Mr Ronald John Jones – Army (Newbridge)
Mr Jones is 96. He was called up to the army at the age of 19. He was a Sergeant in the 2nd Platoon 17th Field Company Royal Engineers. This unit was part of the 185 Brigade as part of the three brigades that made up the Third British Infantry Division and was the spearhead in the invasion of France and landed on Sword Beach, D-Day, at 07.20hrs. He was wounded twice during the war and returned to operations on both occasions.
He was part of last years’ 75th D-Day celebrations in Normandy
Mr Cledwyn Evans – RAF (Bangor)
RAF Sergeant Radio Operator / Gunner
Cledwyn flew throughout the war in Warwick Aircraft which dropped lifeboats on three parachutes instead of bombs.
He went out looking for a Catalina Aircraft that came down 200 -250 miles northwest of Scapa Flow. he did not find it, both his plane’s engines failed and they had to ditch in the Atlantic, Cledwyn couldn’t swim and as he can tell the First Minister, he was pulled out of the water by his pilot onto one of the wings, just as he was going down for the third time, to be later rescued by the Royal Navy.
The second time Cledwyn crashed into the water was when they came into land on fire and as they hit the runway they were totally engulfed in flames, overshot the runway, summersaulted and landed in the water facing the cliff. We have a photo of the plain in the water at low tide with steam still coming off it. Four were killed.
Mr Davies – army (Welshpool)
Mr Davies is 103, he lives on his own in Welshpool and fends for himself. He started his army career with the Ox and Bucks when he was in Oxford. After the Normandy landings he was transferred to the Gordon Highlanders after they had suffered heavy losses on D day. He landed in France four days afterwards. He had been invited to the Blind Veterans Centre in Llandudno for the VE Day celebrations but with lockdown they had to cancel.