Arthur Jones, from Pendeford, Wolverhampton, visited the railway on Wednesday to see how preparations for the 40s Weekends, taking place this weekend and next, are shaping-up, and to see the poppyfields in full-bloom during a steam train journey to Bridgnorth.
He will perform a poignant reading of his own poetry in tribute to the thousands of soldiers who died during the D-Day Landings 75 years ago during the closing ceremony of the SVR’s 40s Weekends at Kidderminster on Sunday.
Other D-Day veterans can get a free day ticket to the 40s Weekends by booking in advance on 01562 757900, with their National Service number.
Arthur, 92, has recently returned from the D-Day commemorations in Normandy, where he met HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and said he was particularly moved to be stepping once again onto the beaches at Arromanches, remembering all the young men who lost their lives.
He was called up to serve in the war at the age of 18 and said: “I walked out of my house and my family didn’t see me for 18 months – I had no leave at all.”
He was given just six weeks of training to become a tank driver and mechanic.
He said: “I was told to drive in a slow booster gear straight towards a great big hole, to keep going, even though I knew that the ground was just disappearing from under me. The next thing I knew was that I was facing downwards, vertically into the pit – it was scary stuff! Once I’d manoeuvred the tank up the steep sides and dropped onto the top, that was it – I became a tank driver!”
Arthur was part of the Normandy landings and landed on Gold Beach but calls himself ‘one of the lucky ones’ having gone in later and missed the first wave of troops to land.
He initially served with the 8th Armoured Regiment and then the 7th Armoured Regiment.
By the time the war ended, he had crossed France, Belgium and Holland and has since been awarded the Légion d’Honneur – France’s highest order of military merit, for his part in liberating France in 1944.
Though he never spoke of his experiences until he worked as a volunteer at RAF Cosford, he now visits schools to retell his story and says that talking has helped him come to terms with what happened on D-Day.
“I enjoy it because I am one of the lucky ones because I came back. When people come to me and congratulate me on what we did, they are congratulating the lads who didn’t come back – they are still 18 or 19 and didn’t come home,” he explained.
“I am representing them more than myself and people should remember them.”
The SVR’s Nikki Davies, said: “Arthur is an incredible man, who, despite all he has been through, still has a twinkle in his eye. I am told that there’s not a dry eye in the house when Arthur takes to the stage to remember his fallen comrades through his poignant poetry.”
The Severn Valley Railway’s Step Back to the 1940s Weekends take place this weekend and next.
For more information, see www.svr.co.uk call 01562 757900 or visit the Severn Valley Railway Official Site or Families pages on Facebook.