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Thursday 31 July 2014

D-Day veteran Pat's poignant message for fallen comrades

Ed Carty

Published 06/06/2014|02:30

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Pat Gillen, 89, who was among the first wave of troops to invade Sword beach in Normandy on June 6 1944 pictured at his home in Cork
Pat Gillen, 89, who was among the first wave of troops to invade Sword beach in Normandy on June 6 1944 pictured at his home in Cork
Pat Gillen, 89, who was among the first wave of troops to invade Sword beach in Normandy on June 6 1944 pictured at his home in Cork. Picture: Niall Carson/PA
Mr Gillen was among the first wave of troops to invade Sword beach in Normandy on June 6 1944
Mr Gillen was among the first wave of troops to invade Sword beach in Normandy on June 6 1944

One of Ireland's last surviving D-Day veterans has penned a poignant message to his fallen comrades after being forced to abandon hopes of travelling back for the 70th anniversary.

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Pat Gillen (89) who was among the first wave of troops to invade Sword beach on June 6, 1944, has asked ex-soldiers to lay a homemade wreath at a memorial to commando units on the Saulnier farm near Amfreville where they were holed up for weeks.

On the laurel – decorated with poppies and a tricolour ribbon – he has written: "In memory of all commandos from the emerald island who lie in sleep in Normandy fields. Pat Gillen. Friends and Families 6 Commando".

Treacherous

In his home in Cork city, the pensioner recalled the treacherous landing and the devastating German artillery and sniper fire.

"The whole thing was to move fast. Not to be an object for the snipers," he said.

The rifleman, who was in 6 Commando, tasked with securing the Pegasus Bridge near Caen, should have been among the 650 ex-servicemen in Normandy this week to mark the invasion.

With ill-health stopping his return, Mr Gillen asked Irish army veterans to lay the laurel wreath made by his daughter Mary in his place.

The veteran recalled his reaction when he ran away from his Galway home aged 18 to enlist in Enniskillen on Easter Monday 1943.

"My father said to my mother, 'I'll get on my bike and I'll bring him back'," he said. "I'll drag him back and I'll bring his cousin back as well. My mother said, 'he's made his bed, let him lie in it'."

The cousin he enlisted with, Tommy Cotter, a gunner in the RAF, died in one of the last bombing raids over Berlin, and is buried in Potsdam. Another cousin, Eamon Gillen, from Dublin, is buried in Appledorn, Holland.

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