D-Day re-enactment groups hope to inspire remembrance in anniversary year

East Yorkshire Regiment Living Group members portraying the Second Battalion of the East Yorkshire regiment during the Second World War
-Credit: (Image: Michael Lycett/PA Wire)

D-Day history groups have emphasised the growing significance of their efforts to honour the memory of the Normandy landings, especially as many of those who were directly involved are no longer able to share their experiences.

These dedicated individuals, part of re-enactment societies and living history groups across the nation, are committed to preserving the legacy of the veterans for future generations, with the 80th anniversary of the landings soon approaching.

Living history groups meticulously gather clothing, items, and weapons to showcase for educational purposes, while re-enactment groups take it a step further by dramatically re-creating the events.

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The East Yorkshire Regiment Living Group was established with the goal of authentically representing the Second Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment's role during World War II.

Michael Lycett, the coordinator of the group, shared that the reenactors have formed bonds with numerous veterans from the battalion over time. "We have heard their stories first hand and feel well qualified to pass them on," he said.

"By attending shows and putting on displays we are able to tell their stories to a wide audience. This is more important now these men are not here to do so themselves."

Mr Lycett stressed the necessity for society to remember the individual acts of bravery and the sacrifices made by those who were drafted. "They were pulled away from their families and friends and trained to be soldiers, to kill," he said. "This wasn't something they wanted but they felt they had to do their bit."

Undated handout photo issued by the East Yorkshire Regiment Living Group of members portraying the Second Battalion of the East Yorkshire regiment during the Second World War. D-Day history groups have spoken of their duty to inspire remembrance of the Normandy landings ahead of D-Day's 80th anniversary. Issue date: Monday May 27, 2024.
Members of the East Yorkshire Regiment Living Group portraying the Second Battalion of the East Yorkshire regiment during the Second World War -Credit:Michael Lycett/PA

Mr Lycett has observed a surge in the popularity of living history over the 30 years since he joined the group, largely due to the support from English Heritage and military shows. New re-enactment groups continue to emerge, including the 3rd Parachute Brigade & Home Front (British 6th Airborne), established in 2017.

The group showcases weapons and explosives, along with a pot of sand from each of the landing beaches and a chunk of concrete from the Merville Gun Battery in Normandy. When the weather allows, the group unveils an inflating parachute.

Andy Wilkinson, a member of the group, said: "Living history and static displays are important if for no other reason than it allows people to have a chance to hold things that are normally in books, films or museums, and that can bring things into reality."

Mr Wilkinson has created a blackboard featuring a map of the 6th Airborne's drop zone and landing zone on D-Day to better illustrate the division's triumphs in June 1944.

"I am saddened that there is never much shown in film about what the British forces achieved," he expressed. "British 6th Airborne (1 Division) achieved all of its objectives while the US 101st & 82nd Airborne (2 Divisions) failed, yet it's always the Americans that are shown doing well."

The D-Day groups stage displays at events like the Suffolk Military Show, which depicts historical conflicts from the past 1,000 years. This year's event is scheduled for July 27 and 28.

Glenn Caton, 61, who organises the Suffolk Military Show at Trinity Park, Ipswich, alongside his family, emphasised the importance of re-enactment and living history groups in keeping memories alive.

"Unfortunately events such as the D-Day landings are now becoming confined to the history books, as these significant moments are largely beyond living memory," he remarked.

He believes that a well-organised re-enactment can offer an interactive experience that educates both the young and old.

Caton also shared one of the event's guiding principles: "One of the mantras The Suffolk Military Shows has adopted is 'I hear I forget, I see I remember, I do I understand', and that's exactly what the show provides over the two days it is held."