TWO York Normandy veterans have visited places of great personal significance before returning home from their trip to France to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Ken Cooke returned to the location where he was wounded by shrapnel and came close to losing an arm while Ken Smith laid a wreath at the grave of a schoolboy friend who died a week or so after D-Day.

Mr Cooke, 93, from the Hull Road area, said he was kneeling down while out on patrol one day during the Normandy campaign when he was struck by shrapnel from either a shell hitting a tree or an airburst going off overhead.

He was hit in his shoulder and the backs of both legs and was carried by two soldiers to safety and operated on.

Doctors told him afterwards that injuries caused by the shrapnel were only half an inch from causing him to lose an arm.

“I never found out what happened to the others on the patrol,” he added.

He said that while paying his return visit last Friday, a 92-year-old Frenchwoman had come out of a farmhouse and given him a hug and a kiss when she had heard what had happened back in 1944.

She had told him she was living there at the time and the farmhouse’s kitchen had itself been struck by a shell, leaving a crack in a wall that was still there to this day.

Meanwhile, Mr Smith, 94, of Wheldrake, laid a wreath at Bayeux War Cemetery during a short ceremony held in memory of his friend Derek Billet, who died on June 14, 1944, aged 19, just over a week after D-Day.

Nick Beilby, who helped to organise the trip by the veterans, their families and friends, said: “Ken wanted to say goodbye to him and was worried that there no longer would be anyone left to visit his friend’s grave. It was immensely moving.”

Mr Smith said it was about the 35th time he had laid a wreath in memory of his friend.

“It was quite moving actually,” he said. “We were friends at school, and used to cycle to school together.

“I had to visit his parents after the war, and he was their only son.”

He said the whole trip to France had been a "wonderful visit", while also very tiring and hectic, with early starts each day and many media interviews to conduct.

There had been torrential rain and gales on some days, and the bad weather had delayed many parties of veterans trying to cross the English Channel back to the UK on Saturday. Fortunately his coach party was booked to go through the Euro-tunnel and avoided the delays.

The veterans have said previously that this would almost certainly be their last ever visit to Normandy, because of their advancing years and infirmity.