Nestled in a quiet retirement flat in Bromley is a man who just received a letter from the President of France, François Hollande.

It is the latest twist in Colonel Keith Barker’s life, which over his 86 years has seen him lead soldiers into Normandy, battle on the seas around Malta, and later rise through the ranks of the Military Police.

Col. Barker, who lives in Durham Avenue, joined the Royal Navy at just 15 - and his service in the Second World War and career in the forces is awash with poignant moments.

June 6 2014 marks 70 years since the D-Day landings of 1944, a date that also happens to be the veteran’s birthday.

Now too old to make the trip over for the annual commemorative service, Col. Barker wrote to the French Department of War, keen to know the operation - said to be the largest amphibious invasion in world history - is still honoured.

He was startled by the response, and told News Shopper: "I wanted to find out what was going to happen - I can’t afford to stand around for hours now so I just wanted to know.

"I got a letter back and suddenly realised it was from the president. My granddaughter translated it for me.

"I’m sure people are interested to know: French people still say thank you."

In part of the letter, Mr Hollande writes participants in the commemorations will "have a grateful thought for all those who, like you, were not afraid to risk their lives to defend the values of democracy".

Then a Lieutenant, Col. Barker was tasked with commanding a landing craft to go and find out how many boats were needed at the infamous Pegasus Bridge.

He recalled: "Not many of us survived. I remember the smell of death - we were blown to pieces. But we did it for freedom.

"It seems some people don’t really think much about us. It’s nice to have got the letter, to know people remember."

Col. Barker has numerous stories from his time serving his country and we will be documenting them in the next few editions of News Shopper. 

A translation: 


I liked receiving the kind correspondence that you wish to achieve a fair approach to the celebrations of the 70 anniversary of the Normany landings.

I sincerely regret that your state of health does not allow you to take part in ceremonies to be held in France on June 6.

Be certain, however, that all participants in the D-Day commemorations have a grateful thought for all those who, like you, were not afriad to risk their lives to defend the values of democracy and failure to barbarism.

Your courage alone has allowed us to recover liberty. We will not forget. I beg you to believe, Colonel, the assurances of my best wishes.

François Hollande