US News An English veteran stashed for 22 years in a Normandy cemetery

12:15  05 july  2020
12:15  05 july  2020 Source:   ouest-france.fr

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Jean-Louis Letellier devant l’endroit où reposent les cendres du vétéran anglais Dan Robinson dont il tient le portrait, au cimetière militaire de Cambes-en-Plaine. © Stéphane Geufroi Jean-Louis Letellier in front of the place where the ashes of the English veteran Dan Robinson, whose portrait he is holding, rest in the military cemetery of Cambes-en-Plaine.

Dan Robinson, a British veteran who landed in Normandy in 1944, has been buried in the Cambes-en-Plaine military cemetery for over twenty years. Without a gravestone, without a name. And without authorization.

He is there, under the lawn. Divine, cursed. “Here there are 224 graves and 225 people. Jean-Louis Letellier points to a place where there is nothing, and signs discreetly. “Dan Robinson is buried right there. » On the right, third alley starting from the bottom, at the end of the white tombstones. But don't look for his name. In the Cambes-en-Plaine cemetery, there is none. Stashed without a plaque in the English Garden of History. Without a grave, because it has not fallen on the field of honor.

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Landed at the end of June 1944 in Normandy with the 59th Staffordshire Division, Dan Robinson, lad of the suburbs of Birmingham, escaped German fire during the terrible operation Charnwood (or "Wood of the mass grave" ...) which led to the liberation of part of Caen and surrounding villages. "My father told me that when he looked at the 18 year old kids around him, he felt like an old man at 23", remembers his son David Robinson, who still lives in England.

Touched by a bus explosion a few months later at the German border, Dan returned to England, spent weeks in hospital, received the military medal. He marries May, has four children, two girls and two boys, and becomes salesman then manager of stores. Life goes by like this. Once retired, he begins an annual pilgrimage to Normandy. In 1990, "they all landed with us", recalls Jean-Louis Letellier.

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Interested in history, insatiable curious, the Norman born in 1951 "once the war is over" , then just founded the Association of Friends of Charnwood. "From the outset, we decided to welcome veterans into host families rather than the hotel. » Rich idea. The years pass, the bonds are woven. Dan Robinson, the veteran covered with medals becomes a friend, "a father" for Jean-Louis Letellier who lost his too early. David, the conscript from the other side, his "English brother".

Le cimetière militaire britannique de Cambes-en-Plaine. © Stéphane Geufroi The British military cemetery of Cambes-en-Plaine. Buried without authorization

The little story born of the Great was already beautiful. She became extraordinary when in June 1998 Dan Robinson died at the age of 77 and his family discovered his will. He wants to be buried in the Cambes-en-Plaine military cemetery. "I saw my father standing there each summer, in front of his fallen comrades of the 59th: Jack, Tansie, Jimmy, Norman, Billy, Doc ... details his son. For him, it should be an honor to sit alongside these brave men. "He also said that he wanted more specifically to be there, next to one of his friends, who should have been his witness to marriage, breathed Jean-Louis Letellier. We don't really know.

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What is certain is that Dan Robinson wants to rest forever in Cambes. So David calls Jean-Louis, who contacts the then village mayor, Charles Decaen. "He replied:" It is impossible, he did not die during the war! »» The veteran's family insists. Jean-Louis Letellier and the mayor did not drop the case. "We looked for solutions for several months, until I called the embassy. » Nothing to do. One does not joke with death, in military cemeteries.

"So, a few months later, I summoned Dan's whole family. They came from England with the urn. I took my wheelbarrow and ... " He stops, strangles a sob, takes a look at the portrait he took with him for the photo. "I can still see myself making the hole ..." The urn is put down, the hole filled up. Neither seen nor known. “With the family, the mayor, we have kept it a secret ever since. But now we can say, no one would dare ask us to back off.

A secret of more than twenty years

Dan Robinson is there, at the end of the aisle, watching over his friends who fell so young. Discreetly. "Yes, my father's grave is anonymous, recognizes David, but he is not anonymous for his family and our friends in Normandy.

This Tuesday, July 7, the ceremony of the Liberation of the communes of the north of Caen, at the cemetery of Cambes, will have a bitter taste. Without an audience, and, for the first time, without David Robinson, stuck on the other side of the Channel by this damn Covid. Jean-Louis Letellier, he will be there to represent the last remaining combatants and his English father. "And, in a few months, if all goes well, David and his wife Stephanie will return to Normandy to meditate, continues Jean-Louis Letellier. Then, we will go on vacation for a few days together. » With family.

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