D-day veterans tell their stories to students
Published: June 19th 2014
To help school students understand the importance of the 70th anniversary of D-day in June, we set up an opportunity for around 125 students from two UK schools to meet six WWII D-day veterans at our Chateau du Molay in Normandy. But why did one former tank commander show students his toothbrush? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out…
Captain David Render of Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, a WWII D-day veteran now retired, credits his time spent as a motor racing driver for his quick reactions – an essential quality for a tank commander in the line of fire.
These quick reactions must have played a role in helping him beat the odds and survive the Normandy campaign as well as the final 11 months of WWII. In the seven weeks of the campaign the Sherwood Rangers lost around 50 tank commanders and Render has since been told he had a 3% chance of surviving during those months.
The Sherwood Rangers were part of the 8th Armoured Brigade which landed on Gold Beach on D-day and were the first British unit to enter Bayeux - the first French town to be liberated from Nazi occupation on the 7th of June, 1944.
He was only 19-years-old and a Lieutenant when he stepped in to take command of a troop of tanks in the Sherwood Rangers in Normandy five days after the landings. But he was tremendously popular with his men and highly respected. Now 70 years later at 89, he’s still enigmatic and dedicated to keeping alive the memory of his fellow soldiers and helping young people understand what he fought for and why.
Students one day, Prince Charles the next
On June the 5th, Captain Render joined six other veterans to spend an afternoon meeting and talking to school students staying at Travelbound’s Chateau du Molay in Normandy as part of the 70th Anniversary of D-day events. The very next day (June 6th) Render attended a commemorative service at the Bayeux cemetery and met and spoke to Prince Charles.
Around 125 students, including 35 primary school aged children from Steeple Claydon School in Buckinghamshire, were at the chateau to meet the veterans as part of their school trips to France with Travelbound. According to one of the organisers, Martin Kerry a former Sherwood Ranger and member of the Sherwood Rangers Association, the children were mesmerised by their stories.
“We saw an interesting dichotomy between the questions the boys and the girls asked. The boys wanted to know how many Nazi’s the veterans had killed and what the food was like. Whereas the girls were more pragmatic and were interested in finding out about soldiers’ hygiene.”
“During his talk, Captain Render carefully explained that in the Sherwood Rangers they didn’t have any ‘heroes’ and never claimed individual tanks that were killed. He said that as he was the lead tank he would always get the whole troop to fire so if they killed a tank it was the Sherwood Rangers that had done it rather than an individual.”
“At one point during the talk Captain Render took a toothbrush out of his pocket and asked the children what it was. He went on to explain that there was so little space in a Sherman tank that they only had the one toothbrush, the one shaver and the one bar of soap which all the troops shared. The girls couldn’t get past this,” says Kerry.
WWII soldiers’ kit and weaponry
Kerry also spoke to students and brought some WWII uniforms, helmets and a decommissioned rifle for them to try on and hold. The children couldn’t believe how heavy the helmets and rifle were or that the soldiers had been expected to run with them, says Kerry.
Students and veterans also shared a BBQ at the chateau which gave the young people a further chance to ask more questions. Travelbound also donated £100 to the Sherwood Rangers Veteran’s Wives Fund and staff presented Captain Render with the cheque during the day.
As part of their Travelbound trip students also visited Omaha Beach, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, and Arromanches 360.
After the talk Captain Render stayed in France to attend other services and remembrance events and then went on to join a car rally for Jaguar enthusiasts in France with his wife – a former airline stewardess - in their E-Type Jaguar.
Both the veterans and Travelbound are planning to run a veterans’ talk at the Chateau du Molay in Normandy next year.
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By Tim Jenkins