A month before he died, Bernard discussed with his grandson Anthony the possibility of donating his medals to the museum in Ver sur Mer. Bernard’s cap badge and penknife along with a photograph in uniform were already at the museum. Anthony promised Bernard that he would one day do this for him. And so on 6 th June 2008 Bernard’s request became a reality when several members of his family, along with friends travelled to Ver Sur Mer to hand over his medals to the museum.
The family arrived at Ver sur Mer at 9 am on Friday 6 th June.
The family were welcomed by Mr. Jean-Pierre DuPont, Curator of America Musee Gold Beach. There also was Mme Nicole De Villez a friend of the Gregory family and Mr. Michel Rivoire, President of the Association. Three ceremonies were planned for the morning to honour all who took part in the D-Day landings on 6 th June 1944, but especially for those who died during the conflict.
Family, friends and comrades gather together and marched from the village to the beach for the first ceremony at 9.15 am. Tributes were paid and prayers said for the men who fought and died. A lone piper played and later a minute silence was observed.
There was some time to spare during the first two ceremonies so Bernard’s family decided to visit the exact spot on Ver sur Mer beach where he landed on 6 th June 1944, 64 years previously. Accompanying them was Nicole De Villez who lived in Ver Sur Mer. Bernard had first met Nicole as a young girl back in 1944 and who was now a dear family friend. Emotions were high that morning and some tears were shed as the family tried to retrace Bernard’s steps and wondered what it was like on that day so long ago. It was hard to imagine what Bernard went through. Questions arose in the minds of everyone. “What was Bernard thinking?” “Was he afraid?” “What atrocities did he witness?” Bernard was only 18 years old, 13 days short of his 19 th birthday. And somehow there was also a sense of pride at what Bernard had done to help liberate France, and indeed for world peace. But not only Bernard, all the young men, many who died, who gave freely of themselves that day.
Nicole offered to show the family around the village and point out places where Bernard would have visited and camped. They drove up the road to the Farm where Nicole had lived as a child. The same road Bernard would have marched on D-Day in 1944. The place where Bernard came to know well. It was a delight to have Nicole with the family that day. She was such a comfort telling them all about the events of the 6 th June 1944. Filling in the gaps and answering endless questions about her village, the people and the invasion. New friendships were formed that day and memories were created never to be erased.
The second ceremony was held at 11.15 am at the Royal Engineers Monument in Ver sur Mer. A wreath was laid in honour of those brave men who died while helping to liberate Ver sur Mer. Words were spoken by the Lord Mayor and many tributes were made to the men of the 50 th Division.
It was during this ceremony that Bernard’s family were asked to present his medals officially. After a few words by Mr. DuPont explaining the reason for the presentation, Bernard’s medals were handed over by his eldest grandson, Anthony. Mr. Rivoire accepted the medals on behalf of the museum and thanked the Gregory family. This was a very emotional time for all Bernard’s family who were there. The event holds cherished memories for family and friends who gathered at this momentous occasion.
The third ceremony to remember civilian victims was held beside the America Musee Gold Beach at 11.45 am. Tributes and prayers were said in remembrance of the residents of Ver sur Mer who died during the liberation of Normandy. Later all those present gathered in the Museum for refreshments.
It was during this time that Bernard’s family received the most wonderful surprise. Jean-Pierre and Mr. Rivoire asked the family to meet with them separately in the museum. It was then that the family were presented with four D-Day VC (Victoria Cross) commemorative medals, one for each family member, Sean, Eileen, Bernadette and Denise. Again this was a very emotional time for the family and they were grateful to all concerned who helped make the day so very special for them. A day that Bernard would have been so proud. A day that his family will never forget.
After the official ceremonies were over Jean-Pierre and his wife Nany invited Bernard’s family (all 10 of them!) to their home. Nicole accompanied them and they all had a wonderful time of reflection which included a toast to Bernard. The events of the day ended on a high note with home addresses exchanged and promises of future visits.
Later Bernard’s family travelled on to Arromanches and enjoyed the celebrations being held that day. In the evening on the way back the family decided to visit Ver Sur Mer beach one more time. The family took photographs and conversations with Bernard were recalled. A wonderful end to a wonderful day. Nothing will ever take away the memories of Friday 6 th June 2008. Or indeed, the events of 6 th June 1944.