Home NEWS D-Day veterans mark 75th anniversary by returning to Normandy

D-Day veterans mark 75th anniversary by returning to Normandy

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D-Day veterans mark 75th anniversary by returning to Normandy

Back then, they put their lives on the line for liberty and crossed the Channel for an invasion that changed not just the course of the war, but history.

Yesterday, on now frail legs but with their spirits unbowed, 255 Normandy veterans boarded a cruise liner in Dover for a luxury, week-long, all-expenses-paid ‘Voyage of Remembrance’ to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The MV Boudicca, named after the British warrior queen, has been chartered by the Royal British Legion so the veterans – the youngest is 91 and the oldest 101 – can attend commemorative events in both England and France, and return to the beaches where they landed.

AS many as 255 Normandy veterans will be taken across the channel on the MV Boudicca to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day and return to the beaches where they landed. (Pictured) The veterans gather under an ’embracing peace’ statue

The veterans – aged between 91 and 101 – will be attending events in both the UK and France to commemorate D-Day. (Pictured) Celebrity photographer Penny Lancaster, 49, with a veteran on the ship. Her husband Sir Rod Stewart, 74, was performing his 1975 hit song ‘sailing’

The ship, MV Boudicca, departed on Sunday evening ahead of a week of events to mark the anniversary of the biggest amphibious invasion in history. Above: Veteran John Roberts, from Whitstable, as he arrives to board the MV Boudicca ahead of its departure

Her bows have been decorated with the charity’s red poppy insignia and the veterans, each accompanied by a guest or carer, have comfy cabins, two swimming pools, and a choice of three restaurants to dine in during the poignant pilgrimage.

Yesterday the cruise terminal was decked out in flags and bunting as they arrived in coaches from across the country to be greeted by a guard of honour formed by sea cadets.

Later, Sir Rod Stewart, a passionate Legion supporter, surprised everyone by popping up on deck to sing his hit – Sailing – to the veterans, backed by the Central Band of the Royal British Legion. And ‘the Forces’ sweetheart’ Dame Vera Lynn, 102, sent them a recorded message, saying: ‘Hello boys… rest assured we will never forget all you did for us.’

Rod Stewart’s photographer wife Penny Lancaster joined him on board and took pictures of veterans before he sang. She also cuddled up to veteran Len Williams, 93, from the Isle of Wight, who appeared to be enjoying the former model’s attention.

Discussing the day, Mr Williams said: ‘I’m overwhelmed by the welcome we’ve received today. What have we done to deserve this?’

Sir Rod Stewart with a group of three women performing his hit 1975 song ‘sailing’ on board the ship chartered by the Royal British Legion to take the veterans to France

D-Day veterans gather under an ‘Embracing peace’ statue during a commemorative event at Portsmouth Historical Dockyard

To a man, they were looking forward to the voyage. Blazers had been pressed, medals polished, regimental cap badges buffed up.

The Legion even presented old soldier Jim Kelly, 92, who was a 17-year-old machine gunner with the 6th Airborne Division on D-Day, with a set of replacement medals after his were stolen from his home in March.

He didn’t want to go to the commemorative events without them pinned to his chest. Now he has a new set he is looking forward to keeping up his fitness routine – involving the treadmill and rowing machine – in Boudicca’s on-board gym during the voyage.

Eric Strange, 95, had dusted off and brought with him the actual pair of boots he wore on June 6, 1944 when he was a Royal Navy sub-lieutenant. ‘They’re very good boots – I’ve used the quite a bit for gardening,’ he said.

Equally chipper was Jim Grant, 94, who was in the elite SBS – Special Boat Service – manning one of the anti-aircraft ‘pom-pom’ guns on a landing craft as it escorted and protected Canadian craft as they landed on D-Day. His craft was hit three times. Before boarding Boudicca yesterday he said: ‘It will be nicer this time – because nobody will be shooting at us, I hope.’

US D-Day veteran Bert Chandler meetsmembers of the Charlalas close harmony group during the D-Day event in Portsmouth

But beneath all such jollity, there was a far more sombre undertone. For while this certainly isn’t like their invasion of Normandy in 1944, the deafening noise of aircraft and falling bombs, the beaches where German machine guns and artillery cut down thousands of their comrades, loom large in their memories.

Mr Grant, a Brummie who now lives in Stowmarket, Suffolk, said: ‘I was 19 and you didn’t feel the danger at that age, you thought it’d happen to someone else. I’ll be thinking of them all this week.’

Mr Strange, from Crawley West Sussex, said: ‘I have mixed feelings about returning to Normandy. When you look at the cemetery at Bayeux you realise that you were ruddy lucky and they were unlucky.’

John Worthington, 94, landed on Juno beach at dawn on D-Day, survived when his craft was struck by a mine, and was given the perilous job of mine-detecting to clear a path for the Army – by (very carefully) sticking a bayonet into the sand.

Yesterday he said: ‘As far as I know all my comrades were killed who were on the same landing craft. It got to the beach, the other chaps went up the beach but I don’t know what happened to them. An officer told me to transfer to other duties. I was the lucky one.

‘I had to search for mines. You pushed a bayonet in the sand at an angle and had to hope you didn’t hit the detonator.’

The veterans will have the opportunity to visit beaches in Dunkirk on Monday before watching a display by the Royal Navy in Poole Harbour on Tuesday. Above: Veterans with relatives and are greeted by a drum band 

The veterans will also attend the National Commemorative Event in Portsmouth on Wednesday before travelling to Normandy for events in Bayeux and Arromanches. The ship returns to Portsmouth on Saturday before concluding its journey in Dover on Sunday. Above: Tony Snelling arrives with a relative before boarding the MV Boudicca

Other events have also been held commemorating the Normandy landing including a gathering of veterans at Portsmouth’s Historical Dockyard. The journey from Dover will cost the veterans nothing as it is being paid for by the Legion and the Libor Fund – money from fines paid by banks for manipulating interest rates. For Jim Doherty, 94, it will be his first visit to Normandy since he was an able seaman with the Royal Navy on board HMS Obedient on D-Day.

He was invited on the Boudicca’s voyage five months ago – which was the first time his son, Joe, 67, found out about his father’s involvement in June 6, 1944, too.

Mr Doherty senior said: ‘I never thought I’d go back. I might meet some of the people I used know. 

Two D-Day veterans in their nineties are to parachute into Normandy 75 years after they first landed there.

Harry Read, 95, from Bournemouth, and John Hutton, 94, from Larkfield in Kent, will take part in the descent on Wednesday to commemorate the anniversary of the landings. Mr Read, who served with the Royal Signals, and Mr Hutton, a former member of the 13th Parachute Battalion, will perform a tandem jump and land in fields used as a ‘drop zone’ for the 8th Parachute Battalion.

Last night the Boudicca – a Fred Olsen cruise ship – began its voyage by heading off towards Dunkirk. It will then sail to D-Day events on the South Coast before heading over to Normandy for the anniversary itself on Thursday. 

D-Day: How Operation Overlord turned the tide of war in Europe

Operation Overlord saw some 156,000 Allied troops landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

It is thought as many as 4,400 were killed in an operation Winston Churchill described as ‘undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place’.

The assault was conducted in two phases: an airborne landing of 24,000 British, American, Canadian and Free French airborne troops shortly after midnight, and an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armoured divisions on the coast of France commencing at 6.30am.

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history, with over 160,000 troops landing. Some 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved.

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history, with over 160,000 troops landing. Some 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved. 

The landings took place along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

The assault was chaotic with boats arriving at the wrong point and others getting into difficulties in the water.

Troops managed only to gain a small foothold on the beach – but they built on their initial breakthrough in the coming days and a harbour was opened at Omaha.

They met strong resistance from the German forces who were stationed at strongpoints along the coastline.

Approximately 10,000 allies were injured or killed, inlcuding 6,603 American, of which 2,499 were fatal.

Between 4,000 and 9,000 German troops were killed – and it proved the pivotal moment of the war, in the allied forces’ favour.

The first wave of troops from the US Army takes cover under the fire of Nazi guns 

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