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WWII veterans take special flight on 79th anniversary of D-Day



A flight from Warton Aerodrome enabled WWII veterans, Ken Benbow (97) and Stuart Taylor (100), to attend the International D-Day Service at the British Normandy Memorial in France.


Collaboration between BAE Systems, Central Lancashire Armed Forces Veterans Association and the Taxi Charity enabled two WWII veterans to fly from Lancashire to Normandy on 6 June.


WWII veterans Ken Benbow, who served with the Royal Navy on HMS Crane, and Stuart Taylor, who served with the RAF as a Dakota pilot, were flown from Warton Aerodrome to Caen in Normandy on the afternoon of the 79th anniversary of D-Day.


As well as the veterans, the special flight carried David Waters, from the Central Lancashire Armed Forces Veterans Association, and David Holmes and Rachael Gordon from BAE Systems. When it landed at Caen Carpiquet Airport, the flight was met on the tarmac by Brian Heffernan and Simon Hawes from the Taxi Charity, who then drove the passengers to the British Normandy Memorial with the help of a team of outriders. At the Memorial, Ken and Stuart shared a few words with Ben Wallace, the British Minister of Defence, who also happens to be Ken’s MP.


WWII veteran, Stuart Taylor

David Waters, Colonel (Retd), Central Lancashire Armed Forces Veterans Association, said: "It’s a simple fact that without BAE Systems intervening in such a timely fashion, our two veterans would not have been able to attend this prestigious occasion. The Taxi Charity provided an additional key piece in the logistic jigsaw that made the transport plan appear seamless and effortless and left our veterans in no doubt that they are precious and valuable national treasures; they represented themselves, the traditions of our armed forces and the nation in general and we can all be very proud they were able to do that. Well done BAE and well done the Taxi Charity."


Rachael Gordon, Director of External Communications at BAE Systems Air, said: "We recognise it is such an important time for the veterans and relatives of the fallen to gather together - and for all of us - to give thanks to the Allied servicemen and women who gave their lives in the D-Day landings and in the Normandy Campaign. It’s a pleasure to have been able to play a role in making sure that veterans Ken and Stewart could attend the 79th anniversary of the D-Day landings."


Brian Heffernan, Ken Benbow, Stuart Taylor and Simon Hawes

Brian Heffernan, Chairman of the Taxi Charity, said: "When we first learned of the ambitious plans to fly Ken and Stuart to Normandy on D-Day, we immediately offered our help. The Taxi Charity has been supporting veterans for 75 years, more usually taking veterans to Normandy for the commemorations from their homes in our cabs. To see the flight coming into Carpiquet and taxiing to a stand adjacent to the aircrafts that President Macron and Ben Wallace, the British Minister of Defence had used that day, was an emotional moment. Ken and Stuart were justly treated like VIPs and we were thrilled to be part of this project to allow the veterans to participate in this important event."


Steven Rathbone, Rachael Gordon, Ken Benbow, Stuart Taylor, David Holmes and David Waters


About Ken Benbow


As a 14-year-old, Ken Benbow from Oswestry was shocked to see a trainload of wounded men returning from Dunkirk and so moved was he that he immediately went to the local recruiting office and tried to enlist! Instead, he was politely directed to the Home Guard until he reached the age of 17½ when, in January 1943, he was called up for service in the Royal Navy.


He joined HMS Crane, a brand new corvette with a crew of 180 which was tasked with providing an escort for the North Atlantic convoys bringing essential supplies for the people of Britain and vital weapons and equipment for the war effort. But they were a highly prized target for German submarines, the wolf-packs that lurked menacingly beneath the surface.


Then came a move to the Mediterranean where the Crane supported the invasion of Sicily and later was part of the armada on D-Day where the Crane provided an anti-submarine screen for the Mulberry Harbours.


The Crane then moved to the Pacific and was off the island of Okinawa as the US Marine Corps carried out amphibious landings. Days passed without any resistance as the marines were drawn in. Then on the sixth day the kamikaze attacks on the ships started. HMS Crane was then ordered to join the British Fleet Train, a huge floating force of aircraft carriers, cruisers, frigates, destroyers and all manner of battleships being assembled for the invasion of Japan. But the fleet was ordered to scatter and disperse as the atomic bombs were unleashed. HMS Crane escorted four hospital ships into Tokyo Bay to take off Allied prisoners of war and was present as the Japanese Emperor signed the surrender.


In 1946, after three years and ten months in the Royal Navy, Ken left the ship for the last time and set off for home.



About Stuart Taylor


Stuart volunteered for the RAF in 1941 as an 18-year-old and was selected for air crew. He was trained in Canada and eventually became a co-pilot on a Dakota. In September 1944, he was involved in the advance to Arnhem, recreated in the film ‘A Bridge Too Far’ where Stuart was flying in troops, ammunition, food, fuel and mail and returning with the wounded.


In December 1944, Stuart was caught up in the Ardennes Offensive, the last major German offensive campaign also known as the ‘Battle of the Bulge.’ It was the last desperate throw of the dice by the German forces. Stuart flew American troops into France from Swindon in an attempt to bolster the withdrawing American troops who had been taken by surprise by the speed and ferocity of the German counter-offensive.


Stuart was on honeymoon in Chester when the atom bomb was dropped and shortly after flew out to the Far East where he spent the next twelve months flying troops around Burma, Borneo, Sumatra and Java.

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