YORK D-Day veteran Ken Cooke has returned to the Normandy beaches where he splashed ashore 80 years ago to take part in a moving anniversary ceremony.

The 98-year-old, who still lives on his own just off Hull Road, will be helping to scatter the ashes of two fellow York Normandy veterans, Trooper Sid Metcalfe and Flying Officer Douglas Petty, both of whom died in late 2022.

Speaking to The Press ahead of his trip, the veteran admitted: “It will definitely be emotional.”

Ken recalls the D-Day landings almost as if they were yesterday.

He was a young private with the Green Howards when he landed at Gold Beach on June 6, 1944.

York Press: Allied forces landing on Gold Beach in Normandy - where Ken Cooke himself came ashore on June 6, 1944Allied forces landing on Gold Beach in Normandy - where Ken Cooke himself came ashore on June 6, 1944 (Image: Submitted)

And oddly, he remembers that the main thing he was really worried about as he splashed ashore was his socks.

As he and his Green Howards comrades scrambled down the netting from the ship that had brought them across the channel and into the landing craft that would take them ashore, the noise was deafening.

“We could see the battleships firing, see the shells bursting ahead, the smoke and dust,” he said. “And the noise – it was more than horrendous – just noise, noise, noise.”

York Press: Allied forces splashing ashore on D-DayAllied forces splashing ashore on D-Day (Image: AP)

But he wasn’t frightened. It was all too new for that.

“I’d never been on a ship before, never been on a beach before, never seen anything like this before. It was all a new adventure,” he said.

He and his comrades were lucky – their landing craft was able to deliver them close to the beach, where the water was shallow.

They jumped into the water with shells and bullets flying everywhere, and ran up onto the beach.

“And all I was worried about was my socks,” Ken said.

“They were wet through, and I was worried where I was going to get some dry socks.”

Their sergeants were screaming at them to move, move, move, get off the beach.

They ran across a field and onto a road: and from there they pushed deeper into Normandy, working alongside another Green Howards battalion to clear village after village. The Normandy invasions were under way.

York Press: Royal Marine Commandos moving inland from the beaches to their first objective after landing in Normandy on D-DayRoyal Marine Commandos moving inland from the beaches to their first objective after landing in Normandy on D-Day (Image: PA)

Looking back on it with the benefit of eighty years of hindsight, Ken jokes that if he’d known then what the world was going to turn into, he might have wondered whether it was all worth it.

“The world is a mess!” he said. “I feel sorry for the younger generation today.”

But joking aside, remembering what happened all those years ago is vital, he says.

He has done more than most to ensure it is not forgotten.

‘Bomb happy’, a play by Helena Fox based on the experiences of Ken and four other York Normandy veterans, played to rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago.

And Ken himself regularly gives talks to school groups and Army cadets.

“It tell them ‘It’s up to you now to make sure that what happened to us never happens again’,” he said.

'The chap next to me got shot in the leg'

KEN Cooke’s initial Normandy ‘adventure’ lasted just short of a month.

On July 4, 1944, just four weeks after the landings, the young Green Howards private and his unit were on patrol.

They’d been pushing deeper into Normandy, and had taken a short break at the side of the road.

Ken remembers a loud bang – then found himself lying face down on the ground.

He’d been hit by shrapnel from a mortar shell.

What followed was hazy. He was picked up and carried back to a first aid station by two mates. He remembers waking in a tent in an Army field hospital in Bayeux to find a nurse jabbing a needle into his buttocks.

READ MORE: 'I was right scared': York Normandy veteran Joseph recalls 'noise and fear' of D-Day

Another time, he woke to see what looked like two German soldiers passing the opening in the tent flaps.

“I said ‘where’s my rifle, where’s my rifle?’” he said – until he was reassured that the two Germans were prisoners of war.

Eventually, he was put on a ship back to Britain, to undergo surgery and rehabilitation.

A doctor told him that he’d been hit by shrapnel in his back and legs. “The doctor said if it had been just an inch the other way I would have lost my arm,” he said.

York Press: D-Day veteran Ken CookeD-Day veteran Ken Cooke (Image: Newsquest)

After a period of rehab in Scotland and two weeks leave, he was shipped back to the front line.

His original battalion had been broken up and dispersed to other units, so he found himself serving with the Ireland Light Infantry.

They joined the Canadians in a push across the River Rhine.

On the far side, they found parachutes hanging in trees – they’d been left behind by paratroopers who had jumped in ahead of them. They rescued some of the canvas to wrap around themselves as they slept.

A little further on, and some distance off, they saw the wreckage of a Dakota aircraft on fire. Near it lay the bodies of two paratroopers. To this day, Ken doesn’t know whether they were alive or not.

York Press: A Dakota from 233 Squadron returning from Normandy in June 1944A Dakota from 233 Squadron returning from Normandy in June 1944 (Image: Library)

Another time, he remembers ambushing two German soldiers. Ken and his mates hid at the side of the road, and as the two enemy soldiers approached they jumped out and told them to put their hands up.

One complied - the other made a run for it.

“Four or five of us shot at him – and not one of us hit him,” Ken said.

The next day, they came under fire from a German panzer. “The chap next to me got shot in the leg,” Ken said.

He helped his colleague back to a first aid station. An officer asked Ken what had happened. Ken told him – and something in his manner must have alerted the officer to the fact that not all was well with the teenage private.

The next thing he knew, he was on a Bren-gun carrier being carried away from the front, suffering from what today we would call PTSD.

A doctor at a hospital in the south of England who examined Ken took one look at the old shrapnel wounds on his arm and back, and said: “You should never have gone back’.

Ken’s war service was over.

He went on to work for Rowntree’s for the best part of 50 years; married Joan; and had a son and two grandchildren.

But he’s never forgotten.

He’s in Normandy today for the 80th anniversary of the landings. And he’s not ruling out another return to the Normandy beaches in future.

“If I keep taking my tablets, I’ll go for the 90th anniversary!” he said.