THE 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings will be the first 93-year-old Bessie Ratcliffe has spent without her husband Jim.
Jim had already planned — and had even packed his bags — in preparation to travel to Normandy for the anniversary. It would have been his 15th visit to the historic battle site.
But the 92-year old, a veteran of the Normandy landings, who stormed Gold Beach on June 6, 1944, as part of the D-Day offensive, died in hospital in February after falling at home..
Three million troops crossed the English Channel as part of the invasion.
Jim’s widow, Bessie, said: “His death did come as a bit of a shock to us. He wasn’t 100 per cent, he was doing okay, but then he had a fall.
“They took him into hospital, but he died in his sleep. He was planning to go to Normandy for the anniversary this year and already had his bags packed.”
Jim, who served with the Durham Light Infantry, was just 23 on D-Day.
He went all the way to Berlin, where he was stationed during the allied occupation of Germany following World War Two.
His son Alan, aged 66, who was secretary of the Bolton Normandy Veterans Association until it disbanded several years ago, said the biggest concern for his father ahead of the invasion was his inability to swim.
He said: “My grandfather, who fought in World War One and survived, always said the only thing he was worried about was dad getting on to the beach itself, because he couldn’t swim.
“He reckoned if he was able to get on to the beach, then it was up to him and he would have as much chance as anybody and could get running — he did all right.”
Alan said his father would talk about the Normandy landings: “He was always been open about Normandy, he never refused to answer questions about it.
“Like most veterans he preferred to talk about the good times they had, the funny things.
“It was such an horrendous time for them that they preferred to think about the good times.
“He always believed in letting people know about what happened and just hoped that it would never happen again.”
Jim was given special dispensation to return to Bolton to marry Bessie two months before D-Day.
He had met his wife-to-be just before the war started.
Bessie said: “He was allowed to come back and we got married on April 1, 1944, at St Paul’s Church in Astley Bridge, where I am originally from.
“Of course I was worried when he went to Normandy but it was just something you had to put up with. I got a telegram telling me he was okay a few weeks later — but I had been prepared for anything.”
She explained that Jim, who was a trained joiner before working in the baking and dairy industries in Farnworth, thought his wife should join him living in Berlin during the occupation years, where he was a sergeant major.
She said: “I told him ‘you’ve got another think coming if you think I’m moving there’ — I wouldn’t go.”
Bessie and her son will spend today quietly remembering Mr Ratcliffe and his fellow soldiers at home in Farnworth.
Alan said: “This is the first time that either he’s not been to Normandy or not been here talking about it.
“It will be a bit strange but it is one of those things. Mum and dad have always been stoic. You are going to die at some point and he was lucky.
“Some of his mates died when they were aged 18 or aged 19 on the battlefield — but we will always remember him and the others who fought.”