When Murray Booker, son of World War 2 Royal Navy veteran Alfred Booker, got in touch with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) with an ambition to reunite his father with fellow serviceman Norman Burns 73 years after they first met, we knew we had to help.

The families of the two war heroes had been wracking their brains on how best to celebrate the pair’s 90th birthday celebrations. As if the milestone wasn't enough cause for celebration, they had recently learned that they were being awarded France’s highest military decoration. The ‘Legion d’Honneur', was to be presented to them in recognition for the part they played in the liberation of France, but a number of agencies were unable to help.

Paying tribute to Alfred and Norman

The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity has a national remit to ensure the nation’s sailors, marines, and their families are valued and supported for life. The helping hand of the charity is there from the moment new recruits enter the gates of HMS Raleigh, Britannia Royal Naval College or the Commando Training Centre Lympstone. 

Alfred and Norman were 17-year-old trainee gunners on HMS Ramillies when the ship was sent to support the Allied invasion of France on D-Day on June 6 1944. Records state that HMS Ramillies was tasked with silencing the Berneville Battery, knocking out of the Germans’ six guns in the first 80 minutes and keeping the attention of the rest “allowing landing craft to proceed unmolested”. 

Such is its connection with the Royal Navy that the charity was able to request assistance in bringing the two veterans together. Portsmouth-based HMS Westminster, the most advanced frigate in the fleet, volunteered to host the former shipmates along with their family members.

On board HMS Westminster

The ship’s company provided a hero’s welcome to Alfred and Norman, accompanied by their wives Betty and Bronwyn along with their children. 

The two gentlemen regaled the captain and crew with their vivid reminiscences of D-Day, revealing that Ramillies’ Captain Gervese Middleton wore a piupiu (a Maori grass skirt) for good luck throughout the offensive. No casualties were sustained by the Ramilies or her crew. The grass skirt is now on permanent display at The Royal Marines Museum in Southsea. 

The quartet spontaneously gave a rendition of the Vera Lynn song “We’ll Meet Again” to those assembled in the ship’s Ward Room to greet them.

You can see a video of Alfred, Norman, Betty and Bronwyn below:

Everybody on Westminster really played their part in making the birthday celebrations more than special. Something that Albert and Norman will be talking about for the rest of their lives.

Sincere thanks go to the Captain, fellow officers and crew who made the visit so fantastic but most of all, to Alfred, Norman, Betty and Bronwyn for allowing us to be involved in such a memorable and touching event, one that the RNRMC and those involved will cherish forever.