A few years ago my parents took me on a pilgrimage to Normandy.
My 30th birthday present, it was something I’d always wanted to do with them – to retrace the footsteps of my brave grandfather.
He, along with tens of thousands of other young men, landed on the beautiful coastline of northern France one June morning in 1944 to help break through Germany’s Western Front and, eventually, liberate Europe from Hitler’s grasp.
My brave grandfather, for whom I have utter admiration and pride – an unassuming young man from Treorchy whose experience of the world beyond the Rhondda before war broke out amounted to little more than a fortnightly trip to Ninian Park to watch Cardiff City.
And suddenly there he was, thrown in with men whose lives were as unassuming as his, seasick on a boat sailing from Portsmouth to an unknown beach and an unknown fate.
Some never came back, they’re now buried in one of the many military cemeteries which dot the Norman landscape.
Others, like my Grancher – a South Wales Borderer who drove a Bren Gun Carrier through the countryside of northern France – returned home with life-changing physical and mental injuries.
Nothing, for any of the men who survived Operation Overlord, would ever be the same again.
It’s difficult to understand the magnitude of what happened on June 6, 1944, and the proceeding days of the Battle of Normandy: the sheer scale of human effort, sacrifice, ingenious planning.
It was the ultimate display of team work, of original thinking, of doing something because it had to be done, of taking action because sitting back was no longer an option.
Of course, there were other epic events, battles, invasions and adventures in that most epic and awful of wars, but D-Day captures the imagination like nothing else.
It changed the course of the war, the course of history; a military expedition breathtakingly awesome in scale and consequence.
Yesterday’s 69th anniversary of D-Day illustrated a stark fact: that its surviving veterans are dwindling in number as they now reach their 90s.
Which makes the need to keep their stories alive all the more urgent.
My grandfather’s memories live on through my dad, and – I hope I can do him justice – through me.
As the memories of others go long-forgotten, those still alive must be recorded, but not to glorify or romanticise war – my Grancher’s stories are far from romantic or glorious.
As veteran George Batts, aged 18 when he landed on Gold Beach, said yesterday: “There are 17,000 British servicemen buried in Normandy. They never had a life.
“For their sake, as much as anything I believe passionately that we should record for posterity what the survivors have to say… You must never allow another world war.”