For quite some time I have had the honour and pleasure of accompanying the York Branch of the Normandy Veterans Association back to the places where they fought in 1944 and 1945. Over the years we have travelled from Normandy to Belgium to Holland and on to Germany. The branch was ably led and organised by Cyril Haworth, and it is with much regret that I have to announce he passed away this week at the age of 91.
Cyril was originally from Bolton and in 1940 joined the Home Guard as an eighteen year old volunteer. The following year he enlisted in the Royal Artillery as a Gunner and was commissioned in March 1943. He was posted to 69th Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery, part of the 49th (West Riding) Division, otherwise known as the ‘Polar Bears’. After extensive training, the Normandy operations and D-Day approached and Cyril found himself in the vanguard on 6th June 1944, moving forward to survey location for his artillery unit. He fought throughout the Normandy campaign and later in Belgium where he was captured for a short while but managed to escape. His longest period of service was in Holland where he took part in Operation Market Garden and spent the winter of 1944/45 on ‘The Island’. At one point he had an Observation Post at the top of Driel church tower, which he remembered when we visited the area in 2011:
Cyril’s war concluded with the liberation of Northern Holland and the advance into Germany. Post-war he worked on the manual of aerial photographic interpretation; he remembered that by the time he had finished writing it, it was so secret he no longer had a high enough rank to read it!
I met Cyril in his capacity as Branch chairman of the York NVA and I like to think we became good friends. He would often telephone and I always enjoyed chatting with him; any conversation would soon end up on a WW2 subject. On the trips to the battlefields Cyril was always in his element and he was very generous recounting many experiences, often on the spot where they had actually happened. Cyril and his team of fellow veterans remain an inspiration; when I looked at them as old men, to the modern world that is what they were. But these were survivors of some of the toughest battles of the Second World War and we only have an inkling of what we owe to men like Cyril.
I shall miss Cyril, especially the next time I am in Normandy, but as with all those men I’ve known who once knew the sharp-end, I hope that in some small way a debt can be repaid by making their names, their lives and their experiences live on.