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Pemberton veteran makes Queen Elizabeth smile

‘Strange and wonderful’ things happened to Jim Macdonald at 60th anniversary D-Day celebrations

Many of us followed his preparations with great anticipation and then wished him well as he went to fly the flag for Pemberton and Whistler at the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Now he’s back, still as chirpy as ever, only he’s got more stories than he had before.

Jim Macdonald’s historic trip back to Europe to visit sites such as Normady, Juno Beach and Vimy Ridge was an inspiring personal achievement but it was also a heart warming community story.

The 84-year-old World War II veteran from Pemberton would not have gone had it not been for the Pemberton Legion and for more than $11,000 worth of community donations.

Macdonald made sure that the communities’ money was well spent because he attended as many events as he could on the gruelling 12-day adventure, and even managed to let the Queen know what he thought on international television.

Macdonald met the Queen near Juno Beach, which is where the Canadian forces landed on D-Day, as she toured all the landing sights – and rather than just shake her hand, he prepared a short speech.

"The chances of me meeting the Queen are about 12 billion to one, I mean I was on television all over the world," said Macdonald.

"But I knew she was coming so I got a little bit prepared and thought, ‘What will I say if she offers her hand?’ because unless she approaches you, you weren’t allowed to touch her or speak to her."

So as Queen Elizabeth wove her way around all the veterans she came to Macdonald and within seconds he made her smile.

"I said to her I remembered a picture of her in an English newspaper when she turned 18 and she was called up.

"It was a big thing for the Royal Family to let their daughter be called up, and in the picture she was in the ATS (the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s division of the British Army) bending over the bonnet of the lorry.

"Her dad was there so I told her, ‘Your dad was standing behind you in that photo and he looked so proud of you.’

"And she said that it was so wonderful that I remembered that."

Macdonald admitted the other veterans on his tour gave him some trouble for "charming" the Queen.

"The six other vets on the tour all accused me of giving her my room number.

"So I just said ‘hey, she’s too old for me; I only look at ones 35 and under’."

Meeting the Queen was a highlight, but Macdonald said he also got a tremendous thrill out of visiting a house he saw when he landed 60 years ago.

"When we got to France (last month) we drove all day and ended up about three miles from the village where I actually landed 60 years ago.

"But the bus driver said he had to take a rest because of French law and I thought my god, I’m not going to get to see it.

"Then our tour guide waved down a jeep with British soldiers in it and they took me down there."

The house was in the village of Bernieres, which is about eight kilometres east of Juno Beach.

"I remembered there was one house still standing when I hit the beach, our artillery had taken care of the rest, and when we drove up the road with the English blokes we saw the house again and there was plaque in front it that said the Queen’s own rifle company had restored it," he said.

"Anyway, I looked around and it wasn’t long before this French fellow came out and started hugging and kissing me.

"He told me that his father had been hiding in the basement the day I landed.

"The government had hired this fellow as a caretaker for the house, which was his family’s house, because it had been made into a museum and memorial place.

"I was trying to converse with this guy with what little French I have and, well, that’s just one of a whole bunch of strange and wonderful things that happened."

Macdonald has a video of his meeting with the Queen and scores of photos and he said he is planning to make a presentation about his trip to the community later in August.