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'Absolutely brilliant' Asda duo look after veterans at D-Day commemorations

June 5, 2019 09:02am
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Katy Trapani and Jacqui Benham from our Havant and Waterlooville stores have been helping to look after some of the veterans of D-Day as they return to Portsmouth to mark the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

Jacqui Benham and Katy Trapani from Asda are helping veterans at the 75th anniversary of D-Day
Jacqui (left) with RAF veteran Ron Nolan and Katy (right) with US Army veteran Greg Melikian

The community champions regularly volunteer with Project 71, a charity that supports local war veterans, and as part of this week's commemorations they escorted former US Army radio operator Greg Melikian and RAF gunner Ron Nolan to a special dinner at Southwick House, where British and American commanders planned D-Day in 1944.

Tomorrow they’ll be helping veterans at a remembrance service at the D-Day Stone on Southsea Common.

At the age of 20, Greg was chosen by General Eisenhower to transmit the message telling the allied forces the Germans had surrendered and the war was over.

Katy said: “It was a real pinch yourself moment to find yourself with such incredible people who've given so much for us. Greg tapped out the morse code message on my arm as we were walking in and I got goosebumps as I thought, 'Wow – this is such a special moment!’

"It was very emotional for him but he was so complimentary about Britain and the British people.

"Each of the guests gave a speech. It was such an amazing privilege for me – the girl from Asda – to be in the middle of all this. It's an absolute honour and a really humbling moment as, despite all the stories you read, you just can't imagine what it was like to be there 75 years ago."

Katy Trapani from Asda Havant with veterans at events marking the anniversary of D-Day
Katy escorted Royal Navy veteran Henry Rice to the dinner at Southwick House

Katy and Jacqui will also be escorting veterans to commemorations in Southsea on the anniversary of D-Day before taking them to a pub that Churchill and Eisenhower used to visit during the war.

Jacqui said: "Our store is five miles from Southwick House where the decision to go ahead with D-Day was made and six miles from where the ships set off. This is the home of the Royal Navy, so it's important to me and everyone here that we do whatever we can to support these events and pay our respects to the sacrifice so many people made during the war.

"I'm lucky that through our work with Project 71 I get to meet veterans like Ron quite regularly and get the chance to thank them and hear their stories in person.

"The commemorations tomorrow will be very emotional. We went last year and when they play The Last Post the significance and scale of it all really hits you."

Katy and Jacqui regularly support Project 71, volunteering their time and securing a grant from the Asda Foundation to buy mobility scooters for a couple of veterans. Katy is currently helping them apply for a grant to buy iPads to make it easier for the group to stay in touch.

Asda Foundation grant for veterans' charity Project 71

Lori Coffey co-founded Project 71 five years ago with the aim of taking as many veterans as possible back to Normandy and other key sites.

She has taken eight veterans to France for this year's commemorations and said: "Katy and Jacqui have been absolutely brilliant. We've worked closely for a while now after I first got in touch about taking part in the green token scheme. Katy said there were lots of ways they could help, whether volunteering their time or helping secure financial contributions.

"It's impossible to do what we do without people like them helping. They have got to know veterans so well and I know they really appreciate their friendliness and help."

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