The remarkable story of a close friendship which survived D-Day

Former Bridlington School friends Reg Armstrong and Jeffrey Shaw
Former Bridlington School friends Reg Armstrong and Jeffrey Shaw

An unbreakable friendship proved to be the difference between life and death for two men on the D-Day beaches.

Seventy-five years ago, a group of former Bridlington School pupils, including Jeffrey Shaw and Reg Armstrong were in Normandy, having signed up to go to war with the Green Howards 7th Battalion.

A group of friends including Reg and Jeffrey on the beach at Flamborough.

A group of friends including Reg and Jeffrey on the beach at Flamborough.

They had been posted together throughout World War Two, serving in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East among others, before finding themselves in France in June 1944. Jeffrey had reached the rank of company sergeant major but declined a commission as he chose to fight alongside his friends.

Jeffrey’s daughter Pamela said that the Yorkshire friends had stuck together to the end, having been shoulder to shoulder throughout the war.

Jeffrey was born on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, and the family joked that it was the shock of the end of World War One which had sent his mother, Dora, into labour.

Dora had become one of the first women in the UK to hold a driving licence in 1915, while her husband Frederick had been a war correspondent and professional photographer in the First World War.

Jeffrey with wife Joy and daughter Pamela.

Jeffrey with wife Joy and daughter Pamela.

Born in Rotherham, Jeffrey’s family moved to the coast when he was two.

Pamela said: “Like many men of his generation, he didn’t really speak much about the war, apart from odd funny anecdote, because he lost so many of his friends.

“On D-Day, the commanding officer said it was every man for himself and they were running for their lives along the beach, waiting for the ships to come, being divebombed by the German planes.

“He had to abandon his treasured kit bag because it was imparing him, but he was so relieved that the caamera his beloved late father had given him, survived in his pocket and went on to take many more pictures during my childhood.”

The two friends during their service World War Two

The two friends during their service World War Two

In the confusion and fear on the beach, Jeffrey and Reg were separated.

Reg encouraged him to change boats and rejoin other members of the regiment, and it proved to be a decision that saved his life. The boat he had been on was torpedoed and every man on board lost.

“We knew nothing of this until he was in his final days and then suddenly he wanted to talk about it,” Pamela said.

Returning home, Jeffrey and his friends who had survived the war were demobbed in Malton and returned to the Yorkshire coast.

A collection of Jeffrey's wartime memorabilia, including the camera he kept with him throughout his service,

A collection of Jeffrey's wartime memorabilia, including the camera he kept with him throughout his service,

Jeffrey was one of the lucky ones and had a family business to return to, which had been kept running throughout the war by his widowed mother, Dora.

He joined the Observer Corps, declining requests to continue wartime service in Japan, and was able to identify any type of plane purely by the sound of the engine.

“He just wanted to come back and get on with his life,” said Pamela.

“He made the most of his widowhood by keeping very busy and enjoying his hobbies, which included gardening, music, reading, horse-riding, going on holiday and playing golf with his old comrade Reg.

“They had been through school together and the war together,” said Pamela, “and stayed friends for life.

“In the end, they could play a whole round of golf hardly speaking, because they had nothing left to say, but they were happy in each other’s company!

“They had said everything there was to say during their lifelong friendship.”

“He was in it to do his best for the country. He never dwelt on it though, until he was in a hospice at the very end.

“I used to say ‘why don’t you record your memories?’ but he never did. People of his age and generation just didn’t.

“We can’t imagine the horrors that the soldiers went through on D-Day.

“Can you imagine the relief of seeing the White Cliffs of Dover? They all thought they were going to be killed on the beaches.”

After taking early retirement, he moved to the outskirts of Scarborough, helping his wife Joy run her antique business, and then relocated again to Brompton, before dying in his early 80s.