Last of the Liberators
Robin Savage photographed D-Day veterans in France for a 70th anniversary commemorative book and exhibition
I’m a London-based freelance photographer, and I specialise in shooting portraits of actors and photographing theatre productions. I became interested in the Second World War at an early age, and I was fascinated with D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. In 2011 I began a project that would culminate in an exhibition and book, produced with the help of Imperial War Museum Duxford, to mark this year’s 70th anniversary of D-Day.
These portraits were among 33 that I shot in Normandy during the 68th and 69th anniversary commemorations,
I was immensely moved… being in the company of such extraordinary people has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life
and they’re a poignant record of some of the final visits that these brave and dignified men and women will make to the places that imprinted themselves indelibly on their lives.
William Bray  of 7th Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, was part of the force that captured the strategically important Pegasus Bridge in the early hours of D-Day, and this portrait was taken on 6 June 2013 – exactly 69 years to the day after William parachuted
into the fields you can see behind him. It’s a long walk from the road to this vantage point, and it was a special moment to watch William’s face as he turned the corner and recognised the field.
Vera Hay  endured the horrors of the Blitz while training as a nurse in London. She volunteered for the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, and landed on Gold Beach about a week after D-Day. She served at a field hospital set up in a chateau a few miles inland, as part of a team that treated up to 200 casualties per day.
This was a tricky photo to set up – Vera hadn’t been back to the chateau since the war and only had a rough idea of where it was. I was eventually able to pinpoint it, and I asked the owners for permission to bring Vera there, which they gave. It was an amazing moment to see the glint of recognition in Vera’s eyes as we arrived at the chateau, and I think the owners enjoyed having her there as much as she enjoyed being back.
John Shanahan  of the Royal Ulster Rifles landed on Sword Beach on the morning of D-Day, and on June 7 his unit attacked these woods at Cambes-en-Plaine, a village close to the key objective of Caen. They had been led to believe the woods were lightly defended, but in fact they were held by battle-hardened troops from the 12th SS Panzer Division. After their initial attack was repulsed, the Ulsters launched a second attack two days later and eventually cleared the woods, but at a high cost in dead and wounded.
The commemorations in Normandy are a busy period for the veterans, but it’s also a time for private remembrance for these individuals, and I was immensely moved by their kindness, and their generosity with their time. Being in the company of such extraordinary people has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life.
01 John Shanahan Nikon D3s, Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, 1/160 sec, f/10, ISO500
02 Vera Hay Nikon D3s, Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, 1/250 sec, f/13, ISO200
03 William Bray Nikon D3s, Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, 1/250 sec, f/11, ISO200