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Family’s D-Day dream made a reality by Great British Car Journey

A Derbyshire family has commemorated the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in a very special way in Normandy, France, thanks to help from Great British Car Journey.

A Derbyshire family has commemorated the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in a very special way in Normandy, France, thanks to help from Great British Car Journey.

Thomas Ramsden (10) together with his parents Niki and Mark Ramsden from Stanton in Peak, have retraced the steps of the nation’s war heroes on Normandy’s beaches in a Willys Jeep.

It was thanks to the efforts of Great British Car Journey’s vehicle technicians, Doc Lawrence and his able apprentice Luke Henshaw, that the 1944/45 Willys Jeep was running and in good shape for the epic journey.

“With new parts for the vehicle not arriving until the day before it set off, like D-Day it was a last minute push to get everything ready to go,” said Mark Ramsden.

Used by the American troops, Willys were designed for quick repair in the battlefield. Doc Lawrence, who is used to maintaining cars from the museum’s collection had not worked on a Willys before and there was a bit of head scratching with the ignition system and, he noted,  the British follow up to the Willys, the series one Land Rover, has many similar features.

Thomas’s grandfather (Mark’s father), John Ramsden was a member of the RAF. He joined in1945 and experienced the closing stages of WWII. From a young age Thomas has been fascinated by WWII after hearing stories from his grandfather.

“We thought what a great experience it would be to take Thomas to the Normandy beaches and show him where D-day took place and visit the museums and cemeteries. I suddenly remembered that an old friend of mine, Lt Cdr in the Commando Helicopter Force, Joe Whitfield, owned a Willys Jeep. We thought it would be the perfect vehicle to take to France,” explained Niki.

“Joe was delighted to help but explained it had been stuck in a garage for over five years and he had only driven it once after buying it.

“Thankfully, Great British Car Journey came to the rescue and ‘jump started’ Thomas’s D-day 80th adventure with logistics, planning and delivery!”

When Mark reached out, Richard Usher, CEO and founder of the museum was delighted to help. He explained: “I have known and worked with Mark for a number of years through his company, Grafika, which has helped with our branding and marketing from the time we opened back in 2021 so I was very happy to offer help and support for Thomas’s mission.

“I thought what a great idea for a young lad to learn all about the invasion of Western Europe and the liberation of France and to do it in a Willys Jeep would be a memory that a 10 year old will have for the rest of his life. We just had to help.”

To ensure the Willys Jeep made it all the way to Normandy, Richard agreed that the Jeep could be towed over the Channel on Great British Car Journey’s car trailer. Once there, the Jeep was taken off the trailer and Thomas, Niki and Mark joined the celebrations, touring the beaches of Normandy in the Jeep.

Mark added: “It was a fabulous experience for Thomas, Niki and myself. I am extremely grateful that the freedoms fought for then, allowed me to return with my 10 year old son when so many never returned.”

The Willys adventure will not stop  soon either.  It will be on display at Great British Car Journey until Father’s Day on Sunday 16 June.

To see the Willys Jeep at Great British Car Journey, buy discounted entrance tickets to the attraction online here

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