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Col Keith Barker recalls his time after Second World War - including a reunion at Cafe Gondree at Pegasus Bridge
Colonel Keith Barker, whose Second World War stories we’ve been featuring after he received a letter from French president Francois Hollande, is today 86 years old and still going strong.
He is adamant he is not a hero – instead telling me of hundreds of others he knew and met who served as he did, many of which did not make it home.
As a teenager in the Royal Navy though, the veteran had done things few of us could begin to fathom: storming the Normandy beaches on D-Day; sailing to Malta amid Nazi guns and flames; toiling on a Russian convoy in the midst of Hitler’s power.
He told me his post-war life took some "adjustment". Injuries he sustained throughout meant he could no longer serve as a seaman. Instead, after a short stint in the Territorial Army, he joined the Royal Military Police (RMP).
He said his good education at Dulwich College, and high officers’ exam results, saw him quickly rise up the ranks to his current title. Unsurprisingly, Col Barker is proud of his loyal service, and has fond memories.
"I spent many good years in the RMP," he told me. "It was the only way to go after I couldn’t stay on in the Navy. I was shot five times; I’ve still got a hole in my back.
"But I’m not a hero – I just did my bit. I always wanted to be in the forces. I couldn’t join the Army or the Royal Air Force because of my age; I was under 16 when I joined up.
"But in the Navy they just wanted to know who you knew – and I had family who had fought in World War One. I joined up at Croydon and they let me in. They knew my family."
Col Barker was happily married during his tenure in the RMP, raising a family in the South East.
Having met Madame Gondree and her daughter, Arlette, then seven, during the Normandy Landings, Col Barker is still in touch with Arlette today. In 1944 she had made coffee while the wounded were patched up by her mother.
Col Barker regularly visited France to pay tribute to the fallen and take part in D-Day commemorations, held each summer on June 6. Before his wife passed away he took her to meet Arlette at the famous Pegasus Bridge cafe.
He recalls: "She’s a very beautiful lady. She came running out to kiss me on the cheek – my wife was shocked indeed.
"She said, ’You told me she was seven’ – I said, ‘yes, that was 60 years ago!’ "It was a lovely day and my wife was okay really. It was a greart reunion."
Now too frail to go on the journey, Col Barker is content in the fact that France still honours the efforts. He said he will take a special moment to remember this summer, and was happy to be assured by Francois Hollande that he and "the real heroes" have not been forgotten.
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