Ripon volunteers prepare for D-Day anniversary with a military-style operation
Last updated Mar 26, 2024

With the clock ticking down to the 80th anniversary of D-Day, an army of Ripon volunteers has spent thousands of hours engaged in a military-style operation as the city prepares for the landmark celebration and commemoration.

On June 6 and in the weeks running up to it, the fruits of their collective labours over an estimated 100,000 hours, will be seen in one of the largest events to be held anywhere in the UK.

The stunning centrepiece, is a life-size model Churchill AVRE tank, recreated with hundreds of thousands of stitches from the non-stop knitters of Ripon Community Poppy Project, working in collaboration with Richard Thomson and Gordon Woods of Ripon’s Men’s Shed, who have built the wooden frame of the mighty model war machine.

It is 24 feet long, nine feet wide and seven feet high and timber valued at £2,500 was donated for its construction by MKM Building Supplies.

Stuart Martin (centre) and Hazel Barker of Ripon Community Poppy Project are pictured with Richard Thomson of Ripon Men’s Shed on board the replica tank before the turret was fitted.

Known for its bunker busting capabilities, the tank has been painstakingly recreated in wool and wood in a hangar at Claro Barracks, where space was made available by the 21 Engineer Regiment.

Richard, a former Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineer who spent part of his army career based at the barracks, said:

“This type of tank struck terror in the hearts of the enemy when it came into sight, because of the size of shell that it fired and the destruction that it brought to those unfortunate enough to get in its way.”

With transportation being provided free of charge by Ripon Farm Services, the giant replica will be moved to a number of locations in the city, starting with the Ripon Inn on April 30 and culminating on June 6, with placement on the piazza at Ripon Cathedral, where Jack Churchill, the great-grandson of wartime leader Sir Winston, will light an 80th anniversary D-Day beacon at 9.15 pm.

D-Day 80th anniversary concert

Before the beacon is lit a concert will be held in the cathedral at 7pm. It will feature Ripon City Band, The Duchy Bells, The Dishforth Military Wives Choir and Charlotte Potter.

Proceeds will be shared between Ripon Community Poppy Project and Help the Heroes, the armed forces and veterans charity.

Tickets costing £15 are now on sale online from Eventbrite and from Ripon’s Stuff 4 Offices in  Fishergate and the Wakeman’s Cafe on Market Place South.

Alwyn Hartley of Ripon Community Poppy Project working on the huge D-Day 80th anniversary display

Ripon and the Royal Engineers

The anniversary of the D Day landings in Normandy that led to the liberation of Europe and, ultimately, the end of World War II, has special significance in Ripon thanks to a long and treasured association with the Royal Engineers, who have had Freedom of the City since 1949.

The Royal Engineers’ annual freedom march through Ripon has taken place since 1949.

The Royal Engineers provided the technical skill and engineering expertise that paved the way to allied victory.

The advance of troops from the beaches of northern France and across Europe was made possible by their construction, among other structures, of Bailey Bridges, using techniques perfected on the training grounds of Ripon barracks.

A Sherman Firefly tank on a Bailey Bridge constructed across the Santerno River river in Italy in April 1945. Picture Wikipedia

The Royal Engineers’ world-leading bomb disposal team in Ripon, which taught the Americans how to deal with unexploded ordnance in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, also proved a fundamental factor in maintaining the military momentum.

Stuart Martin, co-founder with Hazel Barker of the Ripon Community Poppy Project, said:

“The city’s long and deep association with the Royal Engineers makes this year’s commemoration and celebration of D Day extra special.

“By coincidence, this year also sees the 75th anniversary of the Engineers being granted Freedom of the city and the 75th anniversary of 21 Engineer Regiment.”

A military-style operation

The former mayor added:

“In a military-style, meticulously-planned operation that started last year, the Community Poppy Project has asked for and received help from individuals, businesses and organisations across the city and all have given their time, materials, labour and logistical advice free of charge.

“They include Jennyruth Workshops, whose workers have cut materials to size for various displays, Calverts Carpets, which has provided imitation grass for display areas and Tates garden centre which is helping with logistics.

He added:

“It has been a magnificent community-wide project collectively involving almost 100,000 hours of volunteer input and has been made possible because of the generosity of the city’s organisations and businesses.”

Main image: The replica Churchill AVRE tank. Picture Ripon Community Poppy Project.

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