First stop Dunkirk! 255 soldiers, sailors and airmen arrive at northern French port in luxury liner chartered by Royal British Legion to honour their fallen comrades and mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day
- The 255 soldiers, sailors and airmen traveled in style on a cruise liner chartered by the Royal British Legion
- D-day veterans were pictured on the Fred Olsen Boudicca as they pulled into Dunkirk for 75th anniversary
- Port in north France was the scene of landmark of World War II in 1940 when Allied troops were rescued
Published: 19:30 EDT, 3 June 2019 | Updated: 21:03 EDT, 3 June 2019
D-day veterans lined the deck of their ship as they returned to France yesterday.
But this time the 255 old soldiers, sailors and airmen travelled in style on a cruise liner chartered by the Royal British Legion.
And the first stop on their week-long Voyage of Remembrance to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day was Dunkirk.
The port in north France was the scene of another landmark of the Second World War in 1940 when Allied troops had to be rescued.
The 255 old soldiers, sailors and airmen, all D-day veterans, travelled in style on a cruise liner chartered by the Royal British Legion. And the first stop on their week-long Voyage of Remembrance to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day was Dunkirk. They left Dover on Sunday evening, the start of a week-long voyage for the D-Day veterans to attend 75th Anniversary ceremonies in both France and the UK. Here, they are pictured on a cruise ship MV Boudicca arriving in Dunkirk
Among those on board the Fred Olsen liner Boudicca was Stanley Elliss, 97. Their arrival was a poignant moment as his brother Leonard had a particularly dramatic escape.
On his first visit to the scene where his brother served, Stanley said: ‘He was here with the Territorials and was evacuated from the beach.
‘But the boat he was in was hit by a torpedo and sunk. He was in the water quite a while then a lifeboat came and he heard someone say, “Don’t pull him up – he’s dead”. Leonard shouted, “Come and get me – I’m alive”. They pulled him up and he survived. He went on to fight in the Middle East.’
Leonard, two years older than Stanley, died in 2008. Yesterday Stanley, of Ashford, Kent, wiped a tear from his eye during his visit to Dunkirk with his daughter Sue Stevens, 67, who is accompanying him on the Boudicca.
Stanley was an RAF sergeant and on a commando mission when he landed with his comrades on the first day of the invasion, June 6, 1944. His job was to capture a German airstrip and fit it out for the Allies.
‘We left on the evening of the 6th on a tank landing ships with four lorries with us,’ he said. ‘We had to wait off-shore until the next morning. On the 7th, I finally put a foot on the beach.
‘We were told to keep our heads down because there were snipers in a church nearby.
‘We got to a field where we were to expect some Spitfires which we had organised fuel for.’ The cruise ship will take the veterans to commemorative events in Portsmouth tomorrow and in Normandy on Thursday. Stanley, who still grows all his own vegetables and makes his own marmalade and Christmas puddings, said: ‘To be able to go back is marvellous.
‘It’s something I didn’t think was going to happen and all the attention we are receiving is amazing.’
Other veterans from the Boudicca in Dunkirk yesterday received a warm welcome from locals. A Frenchman came and chatted to a couple as they were looking at the bullet holes in a church wall.
Also on board is Stanley Bousfield, 93, one of a few veterans who is returning to Normandy for the first time since D-Day.
Back then, he landed on Gold Beach as an 18-year-old ordinary seaman in the Royal Navy with a ‘special mission’.
Yesterday he said: ‘We were working on VHF radios, which we were told would help to shorten the war because the Germans wouldn’t be able to intercept the messages. We arrived on a tank-landing craft on June 6 after the first wave.
‘Our job was to head up to a big detached house and turn it into a signal station. The Germans had been cleared out of it. We were threatened with a fate worse than death if we talked about communications and signalling.’
The house was in Ver-sur-Mer, near where the Normandy Memorial Trust’s monument – backed by the Daily Mail – to the 22,442 men and women serving under British command who fell in the Battle of Normandy is due to be inaugurated on Thursday. Mr Bousfield said: ‘It’s very touching when you think of all those fellows who didn’t make it that day. It’s a great idea to build this memorial. People should never be allowed to forget about these things.’
He said he decided to return to Normandy for the first time as ‘this is the last time I can imagine there will be such a commemoration’.
Today veterans will be off the English coast to watch an amphibious display by the Royal Marines in Poole harbour before heading to Portsmouth and Normandy for the major commemorative events tomorrow and on Thursday.
A party of 32 on the Brittany Ferries ship Mont St Michel set sail for Normandy yesterday accompanied by Royal Navy frigate HMS St Albans and patrol vessels HMS Pursuer, HMS Puncher and HMS Explorer plus a tugboat spraying water to mark the occasion.
They included a former Royal Engineer, Lance Corporal Richard Pelzer, 95, who has not been able to attend ceremonies recently as his wife Dulcie, 96, is bedbound.
He said: ‘My mate got killed by the side of me. It’s left an indelible mark on my heart. He was 21 and he was killed by an exploding mine on Gold Beach. Right beside me.’
- A British soldier due to take part in the commemorations drowned trying to swim across the canal near the landmark Pegasus Bridge. Lance Corporal Darren Jones, 30, got into difficulties after a night out with comrades.