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They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old

June 6, 1944 is a day etched for ever on the memories of students of the Second World War.

Known as D-Day, it marked the implementation of Operation Overlord, the strategic grand plan to liberate France and drive on into Germany, finally defeating the relentless Nazi war machine after five years of combat.

Seventy years ago today, the Allied forces — 156,000 airborne and seaborne US, British and Canadian troops — descended on the beaches of Normandy, France and launched a comprehensive attack in an effort to push back enemy lines.

Thousands of men on both sides lost their lives in the historic invasion, but others survived including Bermudian Bill Wilson.

Mr Wilson, a former Bank of Bermuda chief general manager, died in 1990.

His son Gavin Wilson, the founder of Bermuda CableVision and World On Wireless (WOW), is named after Canadian soldier Gavin Rainey, who lost his life while standing alongside Mr Wilson on the landing barge that carried them to the Normandy beaches.

“Dad made it to shore,” said Gavin Wilson. “Gavin Rainey, his closest friend in the armed forces, was dead before the landing craft door was completely open and never managed to set foot in Normandy.

“The landing barges were immediately swept with machine gun fire from the German defenders when they reached the Normandy beaches.

“Sadly, many Allied troops were killed or wounded by this murderous gunfire before being able to embark on the pivotal mission they had spent months training for.”

A captain who served in the Royal Canadian Field Artillery during the war, Bill Wilson went across to the French coast as part of a team sent to capture German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the overall commander of German defences in north-western Europe.

But before that plan could be put into operation, Rommel — the hero of Germany's North African campaign early in the conflict — was severely wounded a few weeks after D-Day, when the car he was travelling in was strafed by the Royal Air Force.

Rommel was removed from the Normandy front, and hospitalised with major head injuries.

“During the war, Gavin Rainey's family back in Canada obviously never had the opportunity to meet my father,” Gavin Wilson said.

“But they were certainly aware he had a friend in Bermuda. Sometime in the early 1970s a visiting Canadian girl one day turned up on my father's doorstep in Paget.

“She was holding this photograph of Gavin Rainey, her father, and my dad together in the UK during the build-up to the D-Day operation.

“This girl asked if my father lived at this house. Dad didn't answer.

“He just went inside and brought out to her an identical photograph. It was framed and throughout his life it had pride of place in my parents' living room.”

The late Bill Wilson (right), a Bermudian who served in the Allied forces on D-Day, is pictured somewhere in England in 1943 with close friend Gavin Rainey after whom his son Gavin Wilson is named. Mr Wilson survived the invasion but Mr Rainey was killed.

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Published June 06, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated June 05, 2014 at 11:14 pm)

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old

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