In June 1944, as part of the 1st Special Service Brigade, No. 4 Commando landed on Sword Beach thirty minutes before the rest of the brigade, their first objectives were to capture a strong point and gun battery in Ouistreham...
TAXI met up with Ian Parsons, Chairman of the Taxi Charity to find out more about WWII veteran Roy Maxwell and what’s planned for his 100th birthday.
Hi Ian, I understand there is a very special birthday for one of your veterans this month?
Ian: Indeed there is, WWII veteran Roy Maxwell will be celebrating his 100th birthday on 21st February.
Tell us about Roy.
Ian: He is a fantastic man who is forever smiling and joking. He is always immaculately turned out and certainly the youngest looking 100-year-old I’ve ever known.
Can you share any stories about Roy that demonstrate his renowned sense of humour?
Ian: One of my favourites is from the charity’s ‘Back to the Beaches’ trip to Normandy in 2017. On the final day of our trip, Roy joined fellow WWII veterans on stage at the Caen Museum for a Q&A session and was asked, “What was the crossing like on D-Day?” “Oh, it was a lovely crossing,” replied Roy. “Very good indeed…but things started going downhill when we arrived… you see, the reception committee wasn’t very friendly…”
What was D-Day like for Roy, does he ever speak about it?
Ian: Roy served with No. 4 Commando. In June 1944, as part of the 1st Special Service Brigade, No. 4 Commando landed on Sword Beach thirty minutes before the rest of the brigade, their first objectives were to capture a strong point and gun battery in Ouistreham.
As part of HQ Troop, Roy came in at 0730 hours by landing craft, shortly after zero hour. As he and his comrades advanced up the beach under heavy enemy fire, the attachment of French commandos under Phillippe Kieffer peeled off to assault the German strongpoint within the old Casino on the beachfront.
Over 70 years after D-Day, I vividly remember standing next to Roy as our ferry pulled out of Ouistreham after one of our trips to Normandy. It was July 2016 and Roy was one of seven WWII veterans we had taken to Normandy in cabs. We looked out of the window and gazed across the Sword Beach shoreline watching holidaymakers playing ball, building sandcastles, and flying kites. We saw the fun and laughter, but I knew Roy was also recalling a very different scene, I could see it in his eyes. It was a poignant moment.
On D-Day, Lord Lovat, the Commander of No.4, had brought his personal piper, Bill Millin, to pipe the men ashore. Piper Bill famously played his bagpipes as his comrades fell around him on Sword Beach. Amid the gunfire and chaos, Roy told me that he remembers hearing the distant sound of Millin’s bagpipes. Roy knew Bill Millin before D-Day and they remained friends after the war when Roy would often visit Bill after he moved to a care home. Today, there is a statue of Bill Millin above Sword beach and attached to each lamppost lining the promenade is a Kakemono (a fixed banner) which displays a picture of a D-Day veteran along with his name and regiment. Befittingly Roy Maxwell and Bill Millin's stand next to each other.
Does Roy join you regularly on trips to Normandy?
Ian: Yes, he is a regular on trips to the continent and in the UK. On our 2019 trip to Normandy, we were invited to attend the official unveiling of the sound installation at the Bayeux War Cemetery. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was launching its new sound installation: Voices of Liberation. The installation, in the form of a bench, allows the public to listen to unheard stories from veterans and immerse themselves in accounts of the D-Day landings. The memorial bench has audio of veterans speaking about their war, which is triggered when visitors sit down, and Roy spent a few hours on the beach speaking to serving personnel who had also been invited to the launch.
Will you be going to Normandy this year to commemorate D-Day?
Ian: We certainly hope too. The pandemic put a halt to all our travel plans for almost two years and with our treasured WWII veterans being in their late nineties or hundreds we know that for some this might be the last opportunity they have to visit Normandy and remember those that were lost. If travel restrictions allow, and we have everything crossed, we will be taking veterans not only to Normandy this year but also to The Netherlands.
How will Roy be celebrating his birthday?
Ian: Roy is having a party on Sunday 20th February near to his home in Bristol. My wife Anne and I will be joining many other Taxi Charity volunteers to raise a toast to this great man. At the celebration the Charity will present Roy with a framed print. The image is of Roy in front of the Bill Millin statue by Sword Beach, holding a photograph of him with Bill, which I think would have been taken about 25 years ago. War enthusiasts from all over the world know the story of Piper Bill and this seemed a very fitting gift for our centenarian.