Veterans set sail for D-Day anniversary in France

28 minutes agoWatch: D-Day veterans set sail for France

D-Day veterans have departed the UK for France to join commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

About 25 former servicemen are making the ferry crossing from Portsmouth.

Well-wishers are lining the route to watch the spectacle, which is likely to be the last time veterans will make the journey to France.

The group is taking a commemorative torch from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that will feature prominently at a vigil in Bayeux on Wednesday.

PAD-Day veteran Bernard Morgan (left), 100, from Crewe, and Harry Birdsall, 98, from Wakefield, were among those onboardVeteran John Dennett was among those sailing to France for the 80th anniversary

Veteran John Dennett told BBC News: “I am looking forward to it – it’s a chance of a lifetime…Eighty years ago is a long time…

“I am looking forward to seeing the memorial and honouring the lads.

“It is wonderful to think the younger generation will be able to honour their grandparents – I think it will be emotional when I see it.

“We must always remember them.”

PA(Left to right) Royal Navy Commander Glen Hickson, D-Day veteran Jim Grant and Royal Navy Commodore John VoycePA MediaThe veterans gathered on the deck of Mont St Michel as it left the UK

Brittany Ferries’ Mont St Michel was accompanied by a flotilla of vintage and serving warships, including World War Two-era motor gunboat 81, motor launch HMS Medusa and RAF rescue boat HSL 102.

Royal Navy patrol boats HMS Trumpeter and HMS Dasher followed behind, along with sea cadet training vessel TS Royalist and minehunter HMS Cattistock.

Harbour tugs shot jets of water in tribute and bagpipers played on the stern of the ferry as the veterans departed.

There was also the simultaneous sounding of sirens from other craft nearby.

The veterans onboard were seen smiling and waving to people on other vessels as they left Portsmouth Harbour.

PA MediaAs the ferry headed out into the Solent, an RAF A400 aircraft flew past to honour the veterans

The veterans, the majority in wheelchairs or reliant on walking sticks, were in high spirits as they caught up with each other and gave interviews to British and French TV, radio and press.

Many had set out days before. Among them is 99-year-old able seaman John Dennett, who was part of the second wave of troops who landed in Sword Beach on 6 June 1944.

He travelled from Wallasey in Merseyside on Sunday with his nephew.

He told me how important it was to be making the trip on the 80th anniversary.

“We need to remember the lads who didn’t come home. I like to visit all the cemeteries in Normandy and I’m lucky to be able to do so,” he said.

John turns 100 next month but says he’s not 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.”

The Jedburgh Pipe Band played the ferry out of the harbourWell-wishers gathered at the Round Tower in Portsmouth to see the veterans off as they travel to Caen

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

He added: “The veterans are remarkably sprightly, they’re up and about and engaged.

“There were a lot of mixed emotions as you’d imagine but a lot of people are really excited to be going back.

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

ReutersThe veterans were seen smiling and waving as they left

Crowds waving flags gathered on the Round Tower and harbour walls in Old Portsmouth to cheer the ferry as it passed, with the veterans and families waving back.

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

“It shouldn’t be forgotten, what those poor lads went through, leaving here and embarking on France.

“They said they weren’t scared – they must have been petrified.”

Maisie Brown, 20, also from Portsmouth, said: “I came down with my nan to celebrate D-Day and that it should always be remembered.

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

PA MediaCrowds cheered the ferry as it passed

An MoD spokesman said a wreath-laying ceremony will take place on the ferry later “to remember those who never made it to shore”.

On Monday, about 40 veterans met at the headquarters where D-Day was planned – Southwick House, near Portsmouth.

The Brittany Ferries’ ship Mont St Michel is carrying the veterans

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