Dozens of D-Day veterans set sail for Normandy today declaring their pride in having guaranteed Britain’s safety for future generations 75 years after the historic mission.
A group of 32 former servicemen set off from Portsmouth on board Brittany Ferries ship MV Mont St Michel this afternoon.
They set sail in time to reach Caen, Normandy in time for Thursday, which marks exactly 75 years since the Allied forces landed on the beaches.
They are part of a nine-day trip with charity D-Day Revisited, which will take the veterans, along with nearly 70 friends and family, around different commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the landings in Normandy.
The ferry was accompanied by Royal Navy frigate HMS St Albans, and patrol vessels HMS Pursuer, HMS Puncher and HMS Explorer and a tugboat spraying water to mark the occasion.
D-Day Veteran Joe Cattini, 95, who was in the Hertfordshire Yeomanry and landed on Gold Beach on D-Day, waves from the deck of the MV Mont St Michel as it sails away from Portsmouth on Monday afternoon
Hundreds of Second World War veterans have set sail from Portsmouth this afternoon so they can get to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day on Thursday, June 6. Members of the public are pictured waving Union Jacks as they sail off
The Charity D-Day Revisited has commissioned a Brittany Ferries boat to take hundreds of D-Day veterans to France in time for the anniversary commemorations on Thursday
The top deck of the MV Mont St Michel is pictured packed with veterans and their friends and family as they set sail for France
Among those returning was driver in the Royal Engineers, Lance Corporal Richard Pelzer, 95, who has not been able to join celebrations for eight years, as his wife, 96-year-old Dulcie Pelzer, is bed-bound.
He said: ‘The only D-Day story I have is a sad one. My mate was a corporal, he got killed by the side of me. It’s left an indelible mark on my heart.
‘Because we were in the military, I only knew him by the name Corporal Wray, I never even knew his first name. He was 21, and he was killed by an exploding mine on Gold Beach. Right beside me.’
Mr Pelzer, from Fforestfach in Swansea, was called up for conscription in June 1942, aged just 18.
The great grandfather of two said: ‘Travelling over to Normandy, to be honest, there was no feeling. It was just doing your duty, and it just seemed like a big training exercise.
‘The camaraderie on the boats – you couldn’t get anything better. And the best part was getting to enjoy a nice warm tin of soup.
‘But once we were there – I was part of a combined operation, clearing the beaches so others could land and get through. It was not nice.’
MV Mont St Michel (left) is being escorted out of the port by five Navy vessels (one pictured, right) and 18 historical craft
A historical floatilla sails behind a Brittany ferry transporting D-Day Veterans to Caen and the Normandy beaches where they will pay their respects to fallen comrades
He added: ‘Today, I’m pleased to have been part of giving people a safe country to enjoy their lives – that’s been a great joy to me. It’s been a pleasure to see all of the youngsters today are free and enjoying themselves.’
Another veteran, Joe Cattini, 96, who was a driver and Bombardier on Gold Beach on June 6, 1944, said re-visiting Normandy each year to mark the anniversary has ‘started getting easier’.
He said: ‘I’ve been going back every year for eight years now. At first it was quite emotional because it brought back memories, but such things start to ease off a bit.
‘I wasn’t really prepared. We didn’t realise it was the real thing, we just thought it was another exercise until we were half way there.
‘We didn’t know what was waiting for us when we did find out. I landed at 10 o’clock in the morning, and the beach was in a mess.
‘There were dead bodies and the injured all over the place. It wasn’t a pleasant sight.’
Mr Cattini, who was 21 on the day of the landings, was a driver in the Royal Artillery and was awarded a Legion d’honneur.
He said: ‘I was a driver, supplying ammunition and petrol for the guns. Off the beach, we didn’t know where the German guns were because of all the high hedges.
The MV Mont Saint Michel is pictured after setting off from Portsmouth Harbour in the sunshine at 2.45pm on Monday. Another boat,
‘They could see us, but we couldn’t see them. Even if you were infantry, walking out in the open spaces you would get shot. It wasn’t an easy battle.’
The veterans will visit Pegasus Bridge over the river Orne, a major objective of the British planes during the early hours of the landings, before visiting Ranville Cemetery and attending official commemorations at Bayeux on June 6.
Cyrill Elliott, a driver in the Bridge Company of the Royal Army Service Corps, today remembered watching the bombers over the bridge 75 years ago.
The 99-year-old from Sheffield, who was 24 at the time, said: ‘When we arrived at Gold Beach, we had to wait for the Navy to stop shelling the coastline.
‘When the sky had cleared, I remember looking up, and pointing out – ‘oh look.’
Passengers accompanying veterans from the UK to France wave as the MV Mont St Michel leaves Portsmouth today
‘There were Halifax bombers, gliders, you name it, all heading for Pegasus Bridge. I remember it as if I could see it now.’
Of the anniversary celebrations, he said: ‘It’s something that should never be forgotten.
‘When we go back to France now, they bring out all the school children who thank us for freeing them from the Germans.
‘It still amazes me how they managed to eradicate the Germans from all those European countries they were occupying.
‘During the fighting, you just had to do what you were told, you didn’t have time to be scared.’
Royal Navy D-Day veteran John Dennett, aged 94, waves from the deck of a Brittany ferry to Caen and the Normandy beaches this afternoon as he travels back to France to remember D-Day 75 years ago