Speaker meets one of the last surviving D-Day veterans
13 March 2023
The last member of the York Normandy Veterans who stormed Gold Beach on D-Day received a special thank you from the Speaker of the House of Commons "for his bravery in protecting our country."
Ken Cooke was just 18-years-old when his 7th Battalion The Green Howards waded ashore on the morning of 6 June 1944 in the first wave of landings.
Now 97, the former Private told Sir Lindsay Hoyle that he had been "too excited to be scared" to be part of the largest invasion ever, which landed 156,000 Allied troops by sea and air on five beachheads in Northern France.
"It was one big adventure to me - despite all the explosions, bullets flying past, battle ships on fire and rockets going off," said Mr Cooke, from York.
"A lot of people were sick that day, but I found out I was a good sailor, despite never having been on a ship or a beach before.
"It wasn’t until the following day that we realised how serious it was, when people were looking around saying “Where’s Harry? Where’s Billy?”
"Somebody said: “You remember that tank that got blown up on the beach? They were standing next to it when it happened.” That is when it all got scary."
Days later, Mr Cooke was returned home to the UK after he was hit by shrapnel and came close to losing an arm while out on patrol.
As soon as he recovered, he was sent back to mainland Europe to join the Highland Light Infantry, and after fighting battles in Belgium and the Netherlands, he ended up in Bremen in Germany.
His war finally ended when he was injured again during a mortar attack and was sent back to England with what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder.
After VE Day, he returned to his job at Rowntrees as a maintenance engineer, where he worked for nearly half a century.
Sir Lindsay said Mr Cooke’s tale "was not only incredible and showed the bravery of those involved in the Second World War, but it needs to be told so we never forget, and it never happens again.
"It was an honour to meet Ken, and a privilege to be able to thank him, especially as he is the last of the York Normandy veterans. Without the courage of people like Ken, we would not be here today."
Mr Cooke, who with his son Stephen, was taken on a tour of Parliament, was able to see Sir Lindsay again, as he was given a special place in the Speaker’s Gallery in the House of Commons Chamber to watch the day’s proceedings.