TWO old soldiers came face-to-face with a fellow Second World War veteran when they visited the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.

Ken Smith and Ken Cooke, who are both in their 90s, explored American-built locomotive No 5820 Big Jim – one of the railway’s most distinctive trains – during their visit.

Both men took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944 when Allied forces began their operation to liberate Europe from the Germans.

They planned to visit the railway with former airman Douglas Petty, a fellow member of the Normandy Veterans Association, to relive their memories of 1940s railways.

Douglas was unable to attend due to ill health, but the two sprightly Kens were able to travel from York.

The pair spent a wonderful day at the KWVR, enjoying a round trip behind Big Jim and telling railway staff and volunteers stories from their time serving in the war.

A KWVR spokesman said: “It was an honour for the railway to host such a wonderful visit for Ken and Ken and we were delighted to have them join us for the day. Our staff and volunteers could have listened to their stories for hours.

“Hearing what they went through truly brings to life the things that veterans of the past and today experience to keep us safe. Without these individuals we would likely not be here as we are today.”

Ken Smith, 94, fought as a private solider with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.

He said: “I’m Yorkshire-born yet the army chose to put me with a regiment furthest away from my home county!

“Railways were part of our lives in the army. They were how you moved around. I can recall one journey where we travelled in cattle trucks and had to crawl through small gaps in the vehicle sides carrying your rifle and scrambling over sleeping bodies to find a place to sit.

“I put my rifle up against the truck wall but I didn’t realise it was a sliding door: when it opened my rifle fell out onto the track side. I had to get another one!”

Ken has always had a great interest in railways. He is an honorary life member of the York-based Derwent Valley Light Railway Association and has been on the footplate of Sir Nigel Gresley’s legendary express steam locomotive the Flying Scotsman.

His colleague during the visit, Ken Cooke, 93, was a private soldier in the Yorkshire-based infantry regiment, the Green Howards.

He has the distinction of having a railway locomotive named after him on the Derwent Valley Light Railway.

Ken, who lied about his age to join up at 16-years-old, said: “I used to work as an engineer at Rowntree’s confectionary in York and one day I was given a lift back from the far side of the factory site on a diesel locomotive.

“Fortunately the locomotive was saved from being scrapped and taken to the Derwent Valley Light Railway. In 2018 they took me by surprise when they took me to the railway to see its again and asked me to help with its naming ceremony.

“I was totally shocked when the curtain went back and saw it was named after me. Everybody had known what was happening except me!”

Nick Bielby, secretary of York’s Normandy Veterans Association, said Ken, Ken and Douglas were a “grand bunch of chaps” who continued to meet after the national Normandy Veterans Association decided to disband due to lack of members.

He said: “They love their days out together. Mind you, because I’m a railwayman the trips out tend to have a railway theme! Fortunately the veterans don’t seem to mind and still enjoy themselves.”

In 2020 the veterans will make their final honorary visit to Normandy.