Incredible chance meeting reunites soldiers 67 years after Normandy
AN incredible chance of fate has thrown two old soldiers together after a gap of almost 70 years.
The last time Clifford Baker had seen his friend, Bill Betts, he feared he was dead after seeing him cut down by a string of bullets on the beaches of Normandy in 1944.
There amongst the noise and chaos, flying bullets and exploding shells, the two, pals for two years since joining the army at the same time, thought they had said their final goodbye.
Believing himself mortally wounded, Bill, urged his friend to carry on up the beach to safety.
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Cliff had no choice and pressed on.
He was to go on and help liberate Europe and after the war meet and marry a Swansea girl, settle in the area and find work in Port Talbot steel works - yet from time to time he would think sadly of his lost fried.
Imagine Cliff's incredulity then, when recently revisiting Gold Beach at Arromanches, to remember those who never made it home, his coach was stopped and as he climbed down there was his old pal Bill.
Unknown to Cliff, Bill had survived the beach after being picked up by a US helicopter 10 hours later.
He too had made the pilgrimage to the beaches of Dunkirk with another veterans tour.
Whilst signing the remembrance book at the town's D-Day museum, the name above his was Clifford Baker. He didn't know it then, but the ink was almost still wet.
"I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw his name but there it was in black and white,' said Bill, now 88, "I'd just been given a commemorative medal by the Mayor of Arromanches so "I asked her when Mr Baker had been into the museum. She said it was only 20 minutes before and that his coach was now boarding in the car park. I decided I had to take the chance to catch him."
Bill scoured the car park in search of his missing friend. Meanwhile the mayor frantically gave an order for departing coaches to be stopped.
Then, to cheers and applause, Clifford came down the steps – and into the embrace of his former comrade.
Arromanches was one of the key targets on the Normandy coastline and both men were among the first ashore on June 6, the opening day of an invasion that changed the course of the war.
Bill, who lives in Warwickshire, said of the last time he saw Cliff on that beach: "It was absolute chaos – we caught sight of each other as everyone was running past. I was just telling them all to carry on."
Of the reunion he added: "Clifford and I were suddenly face to face again so you can imagine how emotional that was. We had a chat about D-Day and events that happened such a long time ago. The memories of it all are still very clear in my mind."
Clifford, who will turn 98 on Thursday, said yesterday: "I was so pleased to return to the very stretch of beach on which I landed all those years ago. The meeting with my old comrade Bill was unexpected to say the least but very happy and emotional. I thought that I'd never see him again."