A Banbury veteran of the Second World War Normandy campaigns shook hands with royalty and political leaders at last week’s 70th anniversary of D-Day celebrations.
Reg Charles, 91, who has lived most of his life around Banbury and was drafted into the Oxon and Bucks Light Infantry regiment in 1942, met Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Milliband during the celebrations at Bayeux Cathedral and the Normandy beaches last Thursday and Friday.
Mr Charles, who fought with the regiment’s first battalion in the campaign to liberate mainland Europe from July 1944 and served in such encounters as the Battle of the Bulge, said he felt ‘quite emotional’ taking part in the veterans’ parades.
“It was wonderful. All these people were lining the streets. It felt like when we liberated some of the villages in France,” he said.
Mr Charles, who rose to the rank of Corporal before being discharged in 1945 after reaching Berlin, attended the ceremonies with his daughter and son-in-law with whom he now lives in the West Country.
A driver by trade, he recalls the moment when he arrived in France only to be told to ‘grab a bag of hand grenades’ as they were in need of infantry, not drivers.
His unit travelled through Belgium and Holland before taking part in the Battle of the Bulge, where he recalls driving twice each day through a minefield to deliver food to a forward troop unit.
They then crossed the Rhine and reached Hamburg. Mr Charles said: “Every time we went into an attack we were more nervous than the one before.” He estimates 50 per cent of his unit were killed during the liberation campaign.