A VETERAN despatch rider made an emotional return to the Netherlands 74 years after he visited to deliver vital messages to the front line.

Lewis Banham was invited to be part of a special parade for veterans as a thank you for their part in liberating the country.

His son Greg and fellow Royal Signals soldier Bill Ogden accompanied the 95-year-old from Weir on the seven-day trip.

Both Lewis and Bill are members of Veterans in Communities, which is based in Haslingden.

Lewis said: “It was fantastic. We were treated like VIPs.

“They held a special parade for us and there were 75 Second World War vehicles, along with 25 motorbikes including BSM20s, the same type of bike I rode across Europe when I was a despatch rider.”

The first parade vehicle he was in broke down and so Lewis switched to another Jeep, and then spent the rest of the parade accompanied by three young ladies.

He said: “I had a marvellous time. They put the windscreen down and we could see everything. People were cheering like mad and when we stopped they would come over and shake my hand and pat me on the back.

“People said thank you very much for our liberation, I told them they had done a lot for me and they told me I had done even more for them.

“It was a trip that I will never ever forget. It was very emotional and they were speaking from the heart.”

The veterans met and had lunch with the inspector general of the armed forces Lieutenant General Hans van Griensven.

Lewis was called up in 1942 and he first served with the 15th Scottish Infantry Division. When he headed over to France in 1944 he was in the 44th Infantry Brigade landing on the Normandy beaches seven days after D-Day.

In total he served for four years and eight months before returning home to his beloved Bessie, whom he had married just weeks before he joined up.

Lewis said: “While there we went to a museum and the man who ran it began collecting items when he was just eight and he picked up ammunition from the First World War and added shell casings and rifles.

“From the Second World War he added bullets and clothing and they had even given him a plane that was outside his house.

“Among the rifles was the first gun I was ever given – a Lee Enfield .303 calibre – known as the ‘elephant gun’.”

In June Greg and Lewis, will be on a coach trip to the Normandy Beaches and Bill is working with Dutch counterparts to arrange a special tour for Lewis in September to the areas of the Netherlands he visited as a despatch rider.

Lewis has been awarded the Dutch Liberation Medal and the French Legion d’Honneur.