- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Joan P. Toner, Joseph P. Toner 'Joe', Patrick J. Toner 'Pat', James Tweedie 'Jim', Peter Toner, HRH Prince Charles, HM Queen Elizabeth, HRH Prince Philip, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Cherie Blair, President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister John Howard, Harry Teale, Jean Teale, Patrick Kelly 'Pat', Pauline Kelly, William Pye 'Billy', Margaret Pye, Patrick Gomont Mayor of Bayeux, Joseph Pooley 'Joe'.
- Location of story:
- Thiepval Somme, Bayeux, Caen, Normandy, Whitehaven, Cumbria.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 03 April 2005
4th June 2004, Hottot-Les-Bagues War Cemetery, Normandy. Joan and Joe Toner (1st and 2nd right) watch Mr Joe Pooley Normandy Veterans Association (West Cumbria) Branch Chairman lay a commemorative poppy wreath to remember the Fallen.
This article is submitted on behalf of Mrs Joan Toner of Whitehaven, Cumbria. It uses Joan’s own words as told to me on Thursday 31 March 2005. The terms of “The People’s War” website have been read and understood.
During World War Two Joan was a schoolgirl in Whitehaven, while her husband Joe served in the RAF from 1941. For many years, both Joan and Joe have been actively involved in commemorative services for the World Wars and have assisted me with my university research about World War Two, which I am pleased to acknowledge. This article concentrates on some of the ways they have commemorated World War Two.
Our interest in the war
“Joe and me, we have had a lot of involvement with the British Legion and the Normandy Veterans, although Joe wasn’t actually in Normandy during the war. He was in the RAF with his bother Pat and worked on the airframes of the aeroplanes. Joe joined the British Legion a long time ago. But then he joined the Normandy Veterans around about 1990.
It was through a fellow called Jim Tweedie, who said to Joe, “How about you joining the Normandy Veterans?” So, although Joe said to him he had been in the Air Force Jim said he could join as an Associate Member, which he did. That’s how we’ve been involved with a lot of the Veterans’ activities.
I’d always been a bit interested in what happened in the World Wars myself. I’d got interested in history and I’d always wanted to go to the Somme, which is mainly a World War One battlefield. So, we’ve been to the Somme, but not with the Normandy Veterans. Joe’s uncle Peter Toner died in the Battle of the Somme and we saw his name on the Thiepval Monument there. I loved going there, but it was very sad.
D-Day Anniversaries in Normandy
Then we’ve been to three of the D-Day commemorations in Normandy. These were the 40th, the 50th and the 60th anniversaries. For the 40th Anniversary we didn’t go with the Normandy Veterans but an organised trip with BBC Radio Carlisle, or Radio Cumbria as it is now. We went all round, everywhere, although we stayed in Paris that time.
For the 1994 D-Day commemorations we went with the Veterans and stayed at a seaside place called Trouville. It’s a little east of the Landing Beaches. Then last year, for the 60th Anniversary we stayed in Bayeux, at the Hotel Campanile. It was funny when we arrived there in the dead of night because we couldn’t find our room!
For the 60th Anniversary we went to a lot of events. We went to the Omaha Beach cemetery, and Pegasus Bridge although we didn‘t stay there long. We went to Ranville cemetery where one of Jim Tweedie’s friends is buried. We also went to the opening of the British Peace Garden at the Caen Memorial opened by Prince Charles. Then we went to Colleville-Montgomery-Plage where there is a big statue of ’Monty’ (General Bernard Montgomery).
There was a big ceremony at Bayeux in the cemetery, you know? We saw the Queen, Prince Philip, Tony Blair, Cherie Blair and of course the French President, Jacques Chirac. He turned up half an hour late and kept the Queen waiting! The Australian Prime Minister John Howard, he was there as well.
Funnily enough, there was an Australian there with our coach party as he had come over from Australia for the commemorations. He was originally from Yorkshire and he is a member of the Normandy Veterans. Actually, he found himself sitting somewhere near John Howard. He had a great ‘craic’ with him and he was so pleased to see him! His name is Harry Teale and when he emigrated to Australia his wife died. He then married an Australian girl, who is called Jean and she was with Harry in Normandy.
While we were on the trip to Normandy he said, “Where do you live?” So, we told him it was Whitehaven. Harry said, “We may come up there some time.” Lo and behold we got a telephone call: “This is Harry Teale. I’m at Bransty Station and we’re going down to the Waverley Hotel to stay a couple of nights”. So, we invited Harry and Jean round and we were delighted to see them.
Anyway, there was a big ‘Dance Night’ that night at St Begh’s Social Club on Coach Road so we took them there. Then we met up with some of the others from the Normandy Veterans, such as Pat and Pauline Kelly and Billy Pye and his wife Margaret. So, we had another great night. Harry and Jean are from Yarrawonga in Victoria, Australia.
While we were in Normandy the Normandy Veterans Branch gave a plaque on behalf of the Mayor of Workington to the Mayor of Bayeux, Monsieur Patrick Gomont. We found all the French people in Bayeux were really friendly. They were really good with us and we were happy to go in the shops and everything.
One place we went in for a cool drink then we decided to have an omelette and chips. So we said, “Omelette?” and they said, “Oui, oui!” Another time we had a ‘Croque Monsieur’ which is like a cheese toasty. The man in that café couldn’t speak any English at all. Billy Pye and Margaret were with us and it was such a laugh trying to order. We made such a lot of friends with the French. Then this lovely woman came in with two children and we asked him, Your wife?” and he said “Oui, oui!” Next we asked him, “And are these your ‘enfants’ (children)?”
We were getting some tea and we wanted some hot water but I couldn’t exactly remember what was French for water. It’s “l’eau” isn’t it? So, I was saying, “Water, ‘eau’, hot, boiling” and we made gestures with our hands. Eventually, he understood and said “Oui, oui!”
That 60th Anniversary commemoration was a marvellous occasion but very tiring. We were up early every day and on to the coach. But one good thing about being based in Bayeux is that it was more central than the other times when we stayed in Trouville and Paris.
Opening the British Peace Garden at Caen, 5 June 2004
This last time we didn’t go into the Memorial Museum at Caen. We have been there before, in 1994. On the 2004 visit we just went to the opening of the Peace Garden. There were so many people there and it was red hot. It was so hot, it was unbelievable!
They dropped us off there and in fact, we never even saw Prince Charles, although we heard him. We were so hot, they were coming with lotion to put on our faces. The army brought loads and loads of bottles of water and biscuits and other things for us, you know? They even brought paper serviettes and made them into little paper hats to put on our heads. Anyway, we survived it!
60th Anniversary ‘Victory Parade’ for the end of World War Two
This year, 2005, is the 60th Anniversary of the end of World War Two and we are going to be part of the official ‘Victory Parade’ for Cumbria in Whitehaven on 26th June. It is part of the ‘Whitehaven Maritime Festival’. I don’t know if I will be marching. I would think it will just be the men because the Veterans are coming from all over Cumbria and maybe even further away. It’s not just the Normandy Veterans who will be involved: it’s anybody who’s been in the war that can be in it.
The British Legion are organising it. There will be a big marquee for a buffet afterwards for all those taking part. The Normandy Veterans have been asked to lead the march. There have been other occasions of marches where we have marched behind the men but I don‘t know whether I will be doing so this time.
There is also supposed to be a member of the British Royal Family taking the salute. We’re looking forward to all that. We’ve seen some of the Royal Family before of course, including the Queen. Because we were married in 1952, the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, someone nominated us to be invited to the official Garden Party for Cumbria at Carlisle Castle and I had my photograph in the local newspaper with the Queen.
For the World War Two ‘Victory Parade’ in Whitehaven they are going to march all around the town and there will be bands as well. I think they are hoping there will be bands from the Royal Marines, the Army and the Air Force. According to what we’ve read, a lot of World War Two aeroplanes will be doing a ‘fly past’ including the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. It should be a memorable occasion.”
At the time of writing this article (the end of March 2005) the official Cumbria County Council ‘Victory Parade’ planned to take place in Whitehaven on Sunday 26th June is expected to have more than a thousand ‘Veterans’ taking part. The 60th Anniversary of the end of the war is also a time to commemorate the experiences of people like Joan who lived on the ‘Home Front’ throughout the war.
Over the years, I have seen Joan and Joe participate in a number of commemorative services for World War Two and attended some of the official commemorative events. It is a responsibility they both take seriously.
There are also other occasions Joan and Joe have participated in social activities such as dances and concerts recollecting the happier times of World War Two. All these things should be remembered about “The People’s War”. It has been a great honour to submit this article on Joan’s behalf.
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