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Lighting Their Legacy

Last week, in the lead up to the 80th Anniversary of D Day the torch of commemoration was passed proudly from two D-Day Army veterans to cadets at the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle.

The event, with Senior representation from the Navy, Army, and RAF, was part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ‘Lighting Their Legacy’ programme of events, as a torch of commemoration is being passed from veterans to young people to represent the passing on of the legacy of D-Day to a new generation.

100-year-old Cyril (k.a Lou) Bird, born in December 1923, joined the 58th Training Regiment of the Royal Armoured Corps at the age of 17 in May 1941. At first, he trained at the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School at Bovington and then that same year joined the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards in Longframlington, Northumberland. November the same year saw him then transfer to the 5th Royal Tank Regiment (RTR).

In January 1942 Cyril sailed from Greenock on New Year’s Day via Baltimore, USA to Cape Town, South Africa and round the East coast of Africa to finally arrive in Egypt three months later. In April 1942 he became a Desert Rat serving in the 8th Army, 7th Armoured Division, 22nd Armoured Brigade, 5 RTR driving a Crusader tank in the North African campaign.

The name Desert Rat came from the jerboa (rat-like animal) on their badges. He then fought in the Desert War resulting in the 1st victory against the Germans and Italians at the Battle of Alamein

September 1943 saw 5 RTR land at Salerno in Southern Italy, fighting their way with Crusader tanks to the River Volturno where they were withdrawn and replaced by the Canadian Army.

In December that year the RTR arrived back in the UK and were fully re-quipped with new Comet tanks. 

In June 1944, Cyril boarded the landing craft in the Wash and landed on Gold Beach near Arromanches on D-Day, 6 June 1944 around midday, the start of Operation Overlord.

Cyril was wounded shortly afterwards at Aunay-sur-Odon in Normandy when a shell exploded very close by and resulted in shrapnel being lodged in Cyril’s back and legs. He was back to the UK to recuperate – first at Taunton Military Hospital and then at a convalescent home in Bournemouth.

Cyril, in September the same year, rejoined the regiment in Holland and liberated Ghent, then crossed the Niederrhein to support the Airborne attack on Arnhem (known as Market Garden) but again was wounded when a piece of shrapnel went through his lower jaw removing some teeth.

Awarded the Military Medal (MM) for bravery in action at Hertogenbosch, Cyril returned to Belgium and fought in the Ardennes in severe winter conditions.

During the months of January to May 1945 Cyril travelled North through Germany finally reaching the Kiel Canal near Hamburg on 8th May 1945, VE Day. He was finally demobilised on 23 October 1946 after spending over a year as part of the Army of Occupation in Germany including the Victory Parade in Berlin.

Cyril’s, birth certificate was falsified by his father who served many years in the British Army. He was issued with a Smith & Wesson point 38 revolver originally used by the NYPD (New York Police Dept) as his personal arm. Cyril’s five brothers all served in WW2.

Born in Ayrshire in July 1924, John Mitchell, will be the great age 99 on the 80th Anniversary of D Day. He joined the Royal Signals in December 1942 from working in the lace trade in the town of Newmilns at the young age of 14.

John was called up at age 18 on 17 December 1942 and sent off to the Army. His basic training took him to the Bridge of Don Barracks in Aberdeen and following aptitude tests, became Signalman John Mitchell, Royal Signals. 

Following further training in Yorkshire and then for landings on the Ayrshire coast proper duties started at Weybridge in Surrey.

On D-Day +1 his unit landed on Juno Beach near Courseulles working on the radio set to the Battleships bombarding enemy strongpoints.

Spending several weeks near Douvres-la-Delivrande with eventually the break through to Caen, then Lisieux and Falaise. After Normandy, they came up to the River Seine at Duclair, to Yvetot then Le Havre, making great advances through France.

From there John’s unit moved to Belgium, through Brussels, Lier, Cambrai, Benouville Tailerville, Etten, Turnhout, Mons Arras, Amiens Michelin, Keerbergen and Zandhoven.

During this period John and his unit were providing communications for an American Division going into action for the first time under the control of 1 British Corps; this was the 104th Infantry Division, called the Timberwolves.

The deployment then took John to Breda, Tilburg, Riel, Goirle and then when the German Ardennes offensive failed, it was to Germany. 

John manned and operated the main telephone switchboard in Munster and was on wireless detachment in the devastated Cologne. 

He was then issued with jungle kit and ready to go to Burma when news came of the Atom bombs and the surrender of Japan. Instead of being sent home, was sent to the Middle East, arriving in Port Said, Egypt.

John went to El-Kasasin, then through Egypt across the Sinai Desert, El Kentara and then to Gaza, spending time in Palestine and Allenby barracks in Jerusalem.

He was demobbed in 1947, returning to the lace trade. John and his wife returned to France with wife as honoured guests for the 60th anniversary of D-Day and in 2015 received the French Legion d'honneur.

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