Stories from people involved in past and present conflicts. A soldier from World War II returns to the beach in Normandy where he and his comrades landed in 1944.
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Hello, and welcome to Remembrance Week.
I'm in Camp Bastion,
the base of British operations here in Afghanistan.
To mark Remembrance Sunday, we'll be meeting some amazing people
and reflecting on their stories of bravery, loss and survival.
Men and women that epitomise all it is great about our Armed Forces.
Coming up on today's programme...
A World War II soldier returns to the beach where he landed on D-Day, 1944,
and tells his harrowing tale of death and survival.
Once we got out of that landing craft,
we was to get across here like an Olympic runner.
A brave pilot from the first Gulf War
describes his extraordinary tale in enemy hands.
As all these bullets were bouncing round us,
John and I were lying next to each other.
Our eyes were like dinner plates and he turned to me and said,
"Shall we kill ourselves?"
And we hear the tragic story of a young women who lost
the love of her life in Afghanistan.
Please just say he's injured.
That's all I wanted to hear because I could tell it was about Steve.
And then he shook his head and said that Steve was dead.
For many veterans, the scars of the battlefields may heal,
but the memories never leave.
Going back to the place where their comrades fell can be
an emotional experience, as our next story reveals.
MUSIC: "LAST POST"
88-year-old Robert Coupe has come back to Normandy
to remember his part in D-Day and the Normandy invasion.
He will never forget those who lost their lives
and for more than 20 years,
Robert has visited his fallen comrades who now rest here.
I think of these guys every day without fail.
They know that I will come
and I wouldn't let them down.
They died so that we could live the life that we want,
not the life that Adolf Hitler had in store for us.
Robert Coupe was just 14 years old when World War II broke out.
I had reached the age of 18 and that was it.
I was in the Army then.
In 1943, as a new recruit,
Robert began his training in the East Lancashire Regiment.
Serving in the infantry, he would be part of the ground troops.
I thought it would be a bit adventurous.
There were some good times we had in the Army, like, and that,
but when we went to war, then you saw the other side of it.
America, Canada and Britain embarked
on the greatest amphibious operation ever undertaken.
Cloaked in secrecy and two years in the planning,
156,000 Allied troops were about to launch an attack
on the beaches of Normandy.
For Robert, this was to be his first mission.
They told you before you went
what your life expectancy was and if you were
the ordinary soldier,
you could go three and a half weeks, possibly a month.
But you wouldn't get more than that, like.
This was indeed the zero hour.
For Winston Churchill, more than almost anyone else,
as he boards invasion craft
to bid Godspeed to Allied troops.
D-Day should have been on the fifth and we were ready to go,
but the weather was atrocious.
There was a window of opportunity for 24 hours and that was on the sixth.
Under complete radio silence,
at twilight came the signal for the dash across the Channel.
At dawn on the sixth of June, 1944, a huge naval force
of nearly 7,000 vessels raced across the English Channel.
Their target, five beaches on the Normandy coastline.
Retracing his steps,
Robert remembers the day he landed on Sword Beach.
It was a massive amount.
It was the biggest armada that the world had ever seen.
You didn't know exactly what was going to happen.
Shattering the dawn 90 minutes before H hour,
the naval bombardment opened up.
More shell tonnage was expended in one hour than in the entire
Allied naval campaigns of World War I.
The Navy's aim was to smash coastal defences,
giving Allied ground forces the best chance
of success to storm the beaches.
The battleships opened up on the beach. The firepower was terrific.
Without it, I don't think we'd have made it.
It gave you confidence,
and that's what you need in these sort of things, a bit of confidence.
The Navy had done all they could to weaken the enemy.
It was now time for Robert to board a landing craft
and make the final approach to shore to face the enemy.
You are riding on top of the waves all the time
and it's more or less going like that.
Every time a wave comes, you're going like that
and it makes you very seasick.
After a while, you're retching and retching.
You're glad to get on some dry land, like, you know,
never mind the Germans. We'll worry about them later.
Let's get on to some solid ground.
On Sword Beach, the Germans were waiting for them
along the coast and in surrounding houses.
They were ready to attack any man who came ashore.
I landed somewhere in this area here in the landing craft.
With it being flat-bottomed, when it finally touches the beach,
the front comes down and out you go.
Having survived the landing,
Robert now faced the terrifying run across the beach,
dodging mines and under constant attack from enemy fire.
Most important thing was once you got out of the landing craft,
was to get across here like an Olympic runner.
You don't hang about, you run hell for leather to get up here.
The bullets were whistling past you and you could hear them...
And it's like a load of birds chirping.
And you see people dropping.
Others are rolling about, with stomach wounds
and all sorts of wounds.
You would lose three men for every one man that the Germans lost.
Landing on exposed beaches meant a high number of casualties.
By the end of D-Day,
as many as 4,400 Allied troops had lost their lives.
You see some terrible sights.
Then you pick your dead mates up and that,
and I thought...
when some of my mates got killed,
at first, I cried.
Then after, I got hardened.
Well, I was 19.
And some of them were 18.
When you think...
They never had a life.
Many had sacrificed their lives to help the Allies
succeed in the cross-channel invasion.
But for Robert, this was only the beginning.
ORIGINAL VOICE-OVER: 'With the beachhead secure,
'the infantrymen lost no time in driving onto other objectives.'
Now they had to fight their way across Normandy.
A few miles south of the coast was their next target,
the city of Caen.
A few miles down the river is Caen,
and that is the way that we were heading.
We went in across the fields and minefields and so on,
but the further you went in, the stiffer the opposition was, like.
They underestimated the strength of the enemy.
Planned to take only a day,
capturing Caen dominated the fighting for weeks.
Usually they would lie in the grass
and then they would suddenly pop up,
shoot somebody in the back, and that was it.
By 7th July, a month after D-Day,
three divisions had fought their way to the outskirts of the city
waiting for dawn to attack.
And to help break down the German defences,
Allied bombers launched an aerial strike.
Morale shot up when we saw the bombers going over.
We thought, "That's just what they deserve."
We thought that hardly anybody would be left, but we were wrong.
Adolf Hitler has had his say - victory or death.
The Germans were fighting back.
The amount of firepower that they had was very strong,
especially their artillery,
and they tried to decimate us so that we couldn't get any further.
The final hours of battle saw some of the most savage fighting.
When you're in a situation like that,
you run short of ammunition on both sides,
and then you are left to fight
either with your bayonet or your knife or something.
It gets pretty close.
And hand-to-hand fighting, and that's the worst part of it, like.
The Germans were ordered to stay put,
and fight to the last man and the last bullet.
And they did.
A day after storming the city, Caen was reclaimed by the Allies.
D-Day and the Normandy invasion had cracked Hitler's fortress.
Two months on, the Allies would march into Germany.
But victory came at a cost.
For Robert, this cemetery in Normandy will always be
a place to remember his comrades from the East Lancashire Regiment.
They made the supreme sacrifice. These guys are the real heroes.
I don't regard myself as a hero, but these guys are heroes.
I don't think they should ever be forgotten.
Robert Coupe is one of the veterans
that the Heroes Return Programme has helped,
enabling them to travel back to where they served,
men and women to whom we pay our respects this Sunday.
On 2nd August 1990, Saddam Hussein's tanks invaded Kuwait,
triggering the Gulf War. For one eager young Tornado pilot,
this was the opportunity to put all of his training into action.
I can never remember ever not wanting to be a pilot, really.
You're elated when the Air Force turns around
and says you have an opportunity to fulfil your childhood dream.
In 1991, John Peters got his first taste of action
and what would be the first war to be captured live on television.
The invasion of Kuwait forced the United Nations
to issue Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
with a deadline to withdraw his troops from Kuwait.
By January 15th, 1991
he'd failed to comply.
This forced a UN-backed Coalition to step in
and war was declared.
When it all kicked off,
there was excitement, actually.
This was big.
That was probably the first time
that any of us, almost including John,
really thought that they may end up in an actual conflict situation.
No-one, I think, actually wants to go to war
but you want to be involved
and you didn't want to be the one to miss the boat.
After months of planning, the coalition force gathered to initiate
Operation Desert Storm.
The aerial bombardments began on the 17th of January.
John and his navigator,
Flight Lieutenant John Nichol,
took off for the first low-level bombing.
It was day one of the war.
That day was a weird day,
because I got a phone call about midnight
from one of the other girls on the base
saying, "It's started."
NEWS REPORT: The time, a quarter to one this morning.
The location, an airbase somewhere in eastern Saudi Arabia
and the mission, to bomb strategic targets in Iraq and Kuwait.
We were all just watching the news.
We literally sat there until about six in the morning.
The two Johns were part of 15 Squadron
flying Tornado jet fighters.
The twin-engine aircraft was heavily armed
and ready for battle.
It was a high/low/high sortie,
so we went in high-level to drop down low into Iraq,
to bomb Ar Rumaylah Southwest airfield.
On the way in, we started
getting shot at by anti-aircraft guns
with all the tracer,
it was like knitting crisscrossing in front of you.
But when they reached the target, their bombs failed to release.
They were forced to turn back.
In that moment,
you just feel gutted,
because all that training
and you think you're a complete failure.
As they headed back, disaster struck.
They were hit by a missile.
And we were sat at the front of this ball of flame.
It was like being the front of a comet.
There was only one choice. Eject from the aircraft.
I remember sitting on the ground in the desert,
so you've suddenly gone from the front end of the largest
air offensive in the history of mankind
and then suddenly you're sitting in the sand.
And it's just totally quiet.
The two of them were in hostile territory
and had to move fast,
but soon they were spotted by an Iraqi enemy patrol.
20 soldiers with Kalashnikov machine guns open up
and we are consumed in this cloud of bullets.
And as all these bullets were bouncing around this,
John and I were lying next to each other,
our eyes like dinner plates and he turned to me
and said, "Shall we kill ourselves?"
And I don't know why, in that moment
I turned to him and I said,
"No, there's always hope.
"Why do their job for them?"
that was our decision to give ourselves up.
John and Flight Lieutenant Nichol were bundled into a truck
and taken to Baghdad.
The next thing,
I'm in a room, sat at a chair,
got a bag on your head, you're handcuffed,
and you hear a voice going, "Name, rank..."
and you think, "This is interrogation."
Then they say, "Are you pilot or navigator?"
And I started to go, "I cannot..."
SOUND OF BEATINGS
Suddenly, you got a baseball bat around your head
and you're on the floor and that's shocking,
I've never been hit with a baseball bat,
and then they don't ask you a question for 40 minutes.
It's five, six men with baseball bats
and rubber truncheons,
just beat your body.
The war raged on.
Coalition forces continued air assaults on Baghdad
where the prisoners were being held.
After three days of torture, John was given a choice.
They put a gun right against your head
and they pull the hammer back and I just remember
you can hear the metal against the metal,
the spring move,
I could see down the barrel.
And they say, "You're going on television
"or you'll never see your wife and children again."
IRAQI: Do you have a message?
Toni and Guy, I love you.
My lowest point was television because I thought
everyone would think I gave in easily and hadn't fought.
I thought my kids, my children,
who wouldn't know me because Guy was two years old
and my daughter, Toni,
was six weeks old, I thought...
the enduring image they'd have of the father was
he was a weak failure of a man who was a traitor
because I'd gone on television.
So that was my lowest point.
My first reaction was relief
because that was the first absolute confirmation
that he had got out of the aircraft safely.
Then my worst fear was
how long it would go on for.
I managed to keep a sort of timeline on a piece of card
that I managed to steal with a pen
and if I was feeling OK,
when I crossed something, I filled in the top.
If I felt bad, I filled in the bottom
and if I felt OK, I filled in the sides.
I think I only filled in the bottom part of that once
in my whole time in captivity.
After a long, brutal seven weeks, things were about to change.
Suddenly the bombing stopped
and it goes dead quiet.
And you're going...
You can't help but think, "Is the war over?"
Good evening, the headlines at six o'clock.
The Gulf War is over
after 42 days of fighting.
The successful air attacks
allowed Coalition troops to complete a ground offensive.
The Iraqis surrendered.
On February the 28th,
President George Bush, Senior announced a ceasefire.
All United States and Coalition forces will suspend offensive
Helen waited anxiously for news of her husband.
I suddenly got a phone call at sort of nine o'clock in the morning
saying, "Helen, you need to watch the news,
"you need to go and watch the news."
And Guy just looked up and went, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!"
And there was this rather skinny-looking chap
in a yellow suit
with massive hair
and very obviously John.
NEWS REPORT: Helen Peters was telephoned by her husband
at three o'clock this morning.
It was one of those phone calls you don't really know what you
talked about at the end.
I just checked that he was OK and it was nice to hear his voice.
He sounded fine.
I was quite frightened about that very first meeting
and how he would be.
"We'll reintroduce you to Helen and the children
"away from the press's eyes," and I'm pleased they did because...
That's when Guy - I though he wasn't going to remember,
he's two years old -
but he suddenly ran along this path going, "Daddy, Daddy!"
And so that was probably my best experience in the Air Force.
The only reason I'm sitting here is because all my friends
did their job.
And no-one thanks them and seemingly everyone's thanked me.
Steve Hicks died on the Squadron.
Kev Weeks died on 16 Squadron.
You know, erm...
I feel unbelievably privileged
to have fulfilled my childhood dream
and I hope I did my bit.
At the height of operations here in Afghanistan,
there were nearly 140 bases outside of Camp Bastion
under British control.
But now the processes has well and truly
begun of bringing our troops home,
I'm off to Shawqat
to see how things have changed.
From Camp Bastion,
it's only a 26-mile flight,
but it takes us into a far more dangerous place.
Shawqat is a forward operating base in Helmand Province
which in the past this has some of the heaviest fighting.
It can still be a dangerous place
and the guys need to be on guard for any signs of trouble.
'Up in the watchtower, or Sanger, as they call it here,
'they're on constant alert.'
Hi, lads. You all right? How's it going? Not bad, not bad.
How's it going?
Paul, mate. Nice to see you.
'Corporal Paul Johnson
'has served in the Nad-e Ali district before.'
How's it going?
Good day. Busy.
I'd call that a thriving community.
Despite the fact you're cutting back,
you're getting ready to move out of here,
these Sangers still have to be manned 24/7...
You always have that 1% chance something will happen.
You don't want to take that risk.
2010 was a pretty bad time. What did you see at that point?
It was a totally different world, to be totally honest.
You were lucky if you got 200 metres away without anything happening.
Yeah, that close. As far as we can see here...
As far as you can see, you can guarantee, nine times out of ten, something was going to happen
I've lost a few friends out here.
It's part of the job, isn't it?
But three friends that I lost,
just within this AO, this area of interest,
three friends all in the same area,
knowing that 600 metres up the road, I lost one good friend.
Are you proud of what you've achieved here
and do you feel even more than most
that you want to get the job done here because of what's happened to your friends?
Somehow, yeah. In a short word, yeah.
The amount that's changed in three years
is fantastic, you know.
It's good to come back.
Three years ago,
life in Helmand Province was indeed very different.
We're going to push south through the bazaar,
until we hit this crossroads...
To see how much things have changed,
I'm going on foot patrol to the local market
and that means a briefing first.
If we do come under a heavy contact,
let's just make sure we have the flanks covered
and we're watching out for that threat.
We'll then push east along Newquay,
back in through the southern gate
and then back into FOB Shawqat.
Let's pay extra attention, not get complacent
at any time just because were getting towards the end of the tour.
You remain switched-on. You remain vigilant.
Preparing for a foot patrol around the bazaar.
This is the point where you get a little bit nervous
cos things are getting better but you're essentially going out on the ground.
You've got to have your wits about you.
A mongoose, a 2-0 mongoose,
a 2-1 Arthur,
'We need to do the patrol and be back at base swiftly
'so we don't draw too much attention to ourselves.'
FOB Shawqat is right in the middle
of the local bazaar.
As soon as you step foot out the gate,
you see the local people going about their work.
OK, all call signs prepare to move. Let's go.
From two or three years ago,
this whole street here would be completely dead.
Now you've got the barber shop on the corner over there.
Is that the barber shop? Yeah. You've got a bakery there,
a few general stores along here.
This is all mechanic shops along here.
So, you know, trade and business is going well.
And also, what you probably wouldn't have seen, are the police in here
patrolling the bazaar daily.
If anything happens, they deal with it, you know, so...
So your role has changed completely now. Yeah. It's a support mechanism.
We're just here showing our presence.
The Afghans are just getting on with life. A lot of the kids...
I mean, you see some of them walking around now,
but they are actually attending school.
Both boys and girls, which is... Really? And the girls as well?
Yeah, it's just something you wouldn't have seen, you know,
two, three years ago.
Salaam alaikum. How are you?
Nice to meet you. Hello.
Seeing so many children on the street is actually quite
a good indicator that things are relatively safe here
because they wouldn't put their children in danger.
This area has been in the news quite a bit,
and from what I have seen, there are clear signs of change.
What is different is the amount of stuff they have now.
There are so many more shops here now than there used to be.
Another thing as well, there's signs, there's advertising.
You can see the advertising boards up there.
Things are really developing here, which is great.
They have been left in peace to get on with their daily business.
Do the locals now believe that you guys are here to help them
to get back to a normal life?
As you can see, there's not really much resentment towards us
from the locals as we push through. They all seem happy to have a chat.
There's definitely a big change there.
I know you've sacrificed a lot from being here.
In the lead up to Remembrance Day,
what does that mean to you, having worked in this area for so long?
It is really sort of humble to be able to finish off the campaign.
I think everyone on this patrol probably knows someone who has lost
their life out in Afghanistan, so it is nice to just come out here
and see that it has all been worth something.
I think that's the biggest takeaway message,
that it has been a success and...
we've done the job we came out here to do. And we're just finishing off
and we'll be out of here in a month, so, happy days.
Back safe and sound.
All this success has come at a cost, hasn't it?
People have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Here at Shawqat, we've got quite a poignant memorial
that has been here for quite a while now. And it has got 48 names on it.
So we have paid a really heavy price here.
'Today, there's a very special service in Shawqat
'to honour the fallen.
'It is a privilege to be here amongst our troops.'
Battle group. Stand at...ease!
We prepare to repatriate this war memorial back to our homeland.
We remember all those who have helped to secure freedom,
often at great personal cost.
Those whom we have known and for whom we mourn,
and especially those named here in this base.
When you go home...
Tell them of us and say...
For your tomorrow We gave our today.
The memorial that we're going to repatriate today
is going to go back to the UK
so that the names of the fallen will be displayed for ever in Britain.
But what I want to do today is for each and every one of us
here in 2nd Duke of Lancaster's battle group to make
a personal commitment to remember all those who gave their lives
and made the ultimate sacrifice here in Nad-e Ali district.
CALL TO ATTENTION
MUSIC: "THE LAST POST"
The men and women of our armed forces have to say goodbye
to their loved ones for months on end.
It's tough but often it can be harder for those waiting at home.
Thea Davies met Stephen Healey
on a night out in her hometown of Cardiff.
He tried to tell me that he was a teacher
until one of his friends came up to me and said he was in the Army.
I did think a bit like, "Oh, why are you lying?"
And he was like, "Oh, it's just easier."
He just kind of laughed it off and, to be honest,
I was hungry so I wanted to go and get something to eat.
We exchanged numbers and then the next day, I heard from him,
and then we started seeing each other, I suppose.
A former professional footballer, Steve was now
serving as an infantry soldier with the Royal Welsh.
Since day one, we clicked. You know, he was just so laid-back.
He was just always so happy, always had a smile on his face.
He never really had any worries.
You know, he loved his, what we call it here in Wales, cwtches,
which is a hug.
And, you know, he was just great. He was everything I wanted, really.
He used to drag me out running or I would drag him out running
and, yeah, it was perfect.
We ran together around the bay in Cardiff.
We were like a perfect match, really.
We had our little life plan.
We had got the house and then following tour,
we were planning to hopefully get married
and just carry on with life, as everyone does.
In March 2012, Steve, now a captain,
prepared for his second tour of Afghanistan. He loved it.
He absolutely loved it. He loved everything about it.
And I know that he inside was excited about going.
But I know he was going to miss the comforts of home.
Steve and his men were heading to the hostile district of Nahri Saraj
in the south of Afghanistan.
Many lives had been lost in that area before Steve's deployment
and the threat of enemy action was still very real.
The checkpoint that he was going to, um, the day that he was going,
an officer was actually killed.
You do get that element of worry and nervousness but then,
you know, you don't know what's round the corner. Everyone's like,
"We'll be fine, everything will be fine, don't worry."
And that's kind of the attitude we had, really.
But inside, you'll always be thinking about it.
Two months into their tour,
Steve and his group were out on a routine patrol.
They had left their checkpoint to survey
the area along a nearby canal.
Steve's Jackal was the lead vehicle in a convoy.
An engineer wanted to go
and see another area which was just down from the checkpoint where
they could potentially build bridges over a canal.
But, unfortunately, um,
the insurgents had laid an IED - an improvised explosive device.
Steve's Jackal drove over it and detonated it.
I was just putting dinner on and Steve's parents drove
up to the house.
I was looking through the window and I thought,
"Oh, it's a bit odd them coming up."
When they got out of the car,
I could see by their faces that something was wrong.
I remember opening the door and looking at his dad.
Just immediately, I thought, "Please, just say he's injured."
That's all I wanted to hear, cos I could tell it was about Steve.
And then he shook his head and said that Steve was dead.
There was nothing that anyone could have done to prevent what
happened that day.
He was pronounced dead on arrival to Bastion.
There is no way that he would have survived
any of the injuries that he sustained.
It was too great.
The world just changed. I just collapsed into a heap.
And I just was like, "No, please say you're not...
"Please say it's not true."
But it was.
I just didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to say.
Part of me was just hoping, you know, that it was not Steve.
You just kind of think maybe they've made a mistake.
Maybe, you know, something's... Maybe there has been a mistake.
But five days later, Steve's body was brought back home.
Some of the lads, they were the bearers and...
And you could see by their faces that they didn't want to do what
they were about to do.
I will never forget those images of him being carried out of the plane.
And I don't think any of us that day will ever forget that.
This is not what we wanted to see.
There was nothing any of us could do to change it.
And he was carried out and put into the hearse
and then driven round to the chapel of rest, where we got to say...
..the worst "hello" ever, really, I suppose.
Then we had the funeral.
He had full military honours which, obviously, he deserved.
The church was packed inside and out.
It was, um...
..yeah, a day that I wouldn't want anyone to go through.
Steve saw the good that was being done out there with the locals
and he believed in what he was doing and he enjoyed what he was doing.
He's kind of my inspiration now, really, and my drive to carry on.
Steve was the 415th member of the UK Armed Forces to die in Afghanistan.
In the months following his death,
Thea wanted to honour Steve's memory in her own way.
I don't know how it came to me, but I decided then
I was going to run 415 miles to honour all fallen soldiers and Steve.
People were saying, "Oh, I'll enter that with you, if you want."
Before I knew it, I'd have a running partner nearly with every event
that I've entered.
During the past year, Thea has raised almost ?15,000 for charity.
The last mile that I do will be Steve's mile,
which will be mile 415.
In October this year, Thea ran her last mile in honour of Steve.
I think anything I do, you know, has always been inspired by Steve.
So he's always going to be with me, whatever I do, really.
I wanted to do something just to remember an amazing man.
In tomorrow's programme...
what happened to a brave merchant seaman
when a torpedo hit his Arctic convoy?
When they said, "Abandon ship," the captain said,
"Go to your lifeboat station, boy, and good luck to you."
And I said, "Thank you, sir."
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Extraordinary stories about the brave men and women whose service is commemorated on Remembrance Sunday. Gethin Jones joins the armed services in Afghanistan to present these moving tributes to those who served before them and hears their emotional memories of war.
In this first episode, a soldier from World War II returns to the beach in Normandy where he and his comrades landed in 1944. A captured British pilot describes his terrible torture during the First Gulf War. And in Wales, a heart-broken young woman describes the loss of her partner in Afghanistan.