As the D-Day commemorations were being broadcast live earlier this month, watching proudly on his TV was a Breakish man likely to be Skye’s last living link with that fateful mission.
Jimmy Clark, who is now 95, was part of the legendary Royal Marine Commando unit which trained at Achnacarry prior to the landings of 1944.
He was there at Sword Beach in Normandy on 6th June 1944 among the thousands of allied personnel who fought to secure a foothold in northern France, laying the foundations for the country’s liberation and ultimately victory over Nazi Germany on the Western Front.
Speaking to the Free Press exactly 75 years since D-Day, Jimmy said: “Watching the footage does bring back the memories. I recognise places, and the uniforms. I was there – up through the streets in Normandy. It does make me feel proud.”
Jimmy was among the commandos who helped to secure Pegasus Bridge – a key strategic crossing point of the Caen Canal which had initially been held by the 6th Airborne Division, dropped in by parachute during the early hours of D-Day.
In the aftermath, he vividly remembers seeing Lord Lovat, Brigadier of the 1st Special Service Brigade – which included the commandos – being wounded.
”He always stood upright with the rifle on his shoulder,” Jimmy recalled. “I remember seeing him directing all the fellows this way and that. Then, the next thing, down he went.”
Jimmy didn’t escape the bullets either. While moving through the village of Sallanelles he was wounded by mortar shrapnel and had to crawl for shelter in a shop doorway before catching up with the other soldiers in the party.
He then spent two days on a hospital ship, and after treatment in the UK returned to join the Allied advance.
In Holland, he held off machine gun fire and was among a party who discovered a map of key enemy positions on the body of a fallen German captain – an action which, following his earlier heroics in France, earned him a second mention in dispatches.
Today Jimmy is unable to travel to join the commemorations, but he stays in touch with events through veterans’ organisations. In 2016 French Consul General Emmanual Cocher travelled to Skye to present him with France’s highest military honour, a medal as a ‘Chevalier’ in the French Légion d’Honneur.
”Me, a knight!” he laughed – but chivalry and bravery embody his generation, and that was neatly summed up in the letter confirming the award, from French ambassador Sylvie Bermann.
She wrote: “As we contemplate this Europe of peace, we must never forget the heroes like you, who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France. We owe our freedom and security to your dedication because you were ready to risk your life.”
Article by Keith MacKenzie