D-Day 80: Soldiers arrive in France for D-Day anniversary

video title, WATCH: Raf Flypast honors D-Day veterans

  • author, Indie Almiroth-Wright
  • stock, BBC South

D-Day soldiers from England have arrived in France to join commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

About 25 ex-servicemen made the ferry crossing from Portsmouth.

Well-wishers lined the route to see as they departed, with last-minute veterans making the trip to France.

The group wore a wreath at sea when they were just off the French coast.

image caption, D-Day veterans Harry Birdsall, 98, and Alec Benstone (front), 98, plunged into the sea one evening.
image caption, D-Day veteran John Dennett, 99, from Liverpool, was emotional during the ceremony aboard Mont St Michael.

D-Day veterans Harry Birdsall, 98, and Alec Benstone, 98, laid a wreath in the English Channel during the trip.

The group has picked up a memorial torch from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which will feature prominently at a vigil in Bayeux on Wednesday.

The veterans, the majority in wheelchairs or relying on walking sticks, were in high spirits as they held each other and gave interviews to British and French television, radio and newspapers.

Many left a few days ago.

image caption, D-Day veterans Bernard Morgan (left), 100, from Crewe, and Jack Mortimer, 100, from Leeds, were among those on board.
image caption, Elder John Dennett was among those who traveled to France for the 80th anniversary

Among them was 99-year-old Able Seaman John Dennett, who was part of the second wave of troops that landed on Sword Beach on June 6, 1944.

He traveled from Wallasey, Merseyside, on Sunday with his son-in-law.

“I’m looking forward to it – it’s the opportunity of a lifetime … eighty years ago is a long time ago … I’m looking forward to seeing the memorial and honoring the boys,” he told BBC News.

“I would like to visit all the cemeteries in Normandy and I am lucky enough to do so.

“It’s great that the younger generation thinks they can respect their grandparents – I think it’s emotional when I see it.

“We must always remember them.”

video title, WATCH: D-Day soldiers travel to France
image caption, .
image caption, Soldiers gathered on the deck of Mont St. Michael as they left England

John, who turns 100 next month, said he wasn’t tempted to take things easy.

“It’s events like this that keep you going. You have to appreciate that you’re here and make the most of it.”

Mont St Michael vintage of Brittany Ferris and served with warships including World War Two motor gunboat 81, motor launch HMS Medusa and RAF rescue boat HSL 102.

Royal Navy patrol boats HMS Ekkalar and HMS

Harbor tugs fired tribute jets and bagpipers played on the boat’s seashore as veterans departed.

There was a simultaneous sound of sirens from other nearby craft.

Veterans were seen in the group laughing and waving to people on other ships as they left Portsmouth harbour.

image caption, As the ferry entered the Solent, an RAF A400 aircraft flew past to honor the soldiers.
image caption, The Jedburgh Pipe Band played the boat from the harbour
image caption, Convalescents at the Round Tower in Portsmouth watched over veterans as they traveled to Caen.

Mark Atkinson, director general of the Royal British Legion, said it was a “momentous occasion”.

He added: “Soldiers are remarkably excited, they’re up and engaged.

“There were a lot of mixed emotions, as you can imagine, but a lot of people are very excited to be going back.

“It’s an opportunity for them to pay their respects and remember the fallen.”

image caption, The soldiers were seen smiling

Flag-waving crowds line the Round Tower and harbor walls in Old Portsmouth to cheer the boats as they pass, with soldiers and families waving behind.

Janet Welling, 71, from Portsmouth, said: “I came here to remember and remember the day.

“And let’s not forget, what those poor boys went through, leaving here and starting France.

“They said they weren’t scared — they must have panicked.”

Maisie Brown, 20, from Portsmouth, said: “I went down with my nan to celebrate D-Day and will always remember it.

“Being the younger generation, my dad and my uncles being in the Navy, I think it’s always important to remember and never forget.”

image caption, The crowd cheered as the boat passed
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