HUNDREDS of World War II veterans have set sail across the English Channel for the Normandy beaches to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings.
More than 250 veterans boarded a ship chartered by the Royal British Legion ahead of the anniversary on Thursday.
The Royal British Legion ship, left Dover on Sunday night at 9pm as part of the commemorations to mark the biggest amphibious invasion in history when some 7,000 ships took part in the initial push to liberate France during World War II.
Before the ship set sail Dame Vera Lynn, 102, played a recorded message for those on board.
She said: “It will be nostalgic and sure to bring back lots of memories.
“Rest assured we will never forget what you all did for us.”
Making a surprise appearance was Sir Rod Stewart and his wife Penny Lancaster, who sang his hit Sailing for the vets before the ship sailed.
The ship then arrived in Dunkirk where more than 330,000 Allied troops were evacuated in 1940 before crossing back over the Channel to Poole harbour this morning.
They return to Portsmouth on Wednesday, where the Queen and US President Donald Trump will pay tribute to their bravery before heading back to France and the Normandy beaches.
And on Thursday, June 6, the 75th anniversary of D-Day when 150,000 landed in France, they will meet Prince Charles at a ceremony in Bayeux.
A Sea Cadets band played to Frederick Adamson, 99, from Coningsburgh, South Yorks, as he walked aboard with his grandson Philip Knight.
Frederick, who served with the Kings Own Light Infantry. said: “What a wonderful reception. We certainly didn’t have a reception like that 75 years ago. It will bring back so many memories. ”
Another of the veterans on the ship, John Roberts, 95, went on to become the captain of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal.
Later John, from Whitstable, Kent, became a Rear Admiral of the Fleet but during D-Day he was a Sub Lieutenant on HMS Serapis.
'WE WILL NEVER FORGET'
He said: “On D-Day I watched from the deck as 500 planes and gliders filled the sky and dropped paratroopers into Normandy. I was a young sailor and never seen anything like it in my life.
“It is important we never forget the sacrifices that young men made in Normandy in 1944.”
Jim Docherty, 93, from Glasgow only told his family five months ago that had had even been at D-Day.
He served as an 18-year-old Able Seaman on HMS Obedience, one of 5,000 ships involved in the campaign.
His son John, 67, said: “It was only when Dad saw that the British Legion were taking veterans back to Normandy that he told us he had been there. We knew he had been on the Arctic Convoys but he had never mentioned D-Day. ”
D-Day 75th anniversary — How the historic battle was fought by Allied troops in Normandy ahead of 75th anniversary commemorations
June 6, 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy when more than 160,000 servicemen began the push to liberate France.
Ships gathered in the middle of the English Channel at point called Piccadilly Circus before making their way to the Normandy beaches.
Paratroopers land behind enemy lines before the main assault begins with British soldiers tasked with securing the Benouville bridge on the Caen canal with Lieutenant Den Brotheridge leading the charge.
He becomes the first Allied soldier to die in the assault when he is hit in the neck by machine gun fire.
US paratroopers land with the aim of securing the town of Sainte Mere-Eglise, which is on the main road to Cherbourg which is the first French town to be liberated after hours of fighting.
Allied warships start to open fire on the German sea defences with HMS Warspite firing off a broadside which marks the British and Canadian assault on Juno, Sword and Gold Beaches.
US forces land on Utah and Omaha Beeches and come under fire from Nazi troops.
By around midday commandos and troops finally reach the key bridges after heavy fighting to meet up with the paratroopers.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill addresses the House of Commons.
He tells MPs: “During the night and the early hours of this morning the first of the series of landings in force upon the European continent has taken place.”
Sprightly Joseph Weaver, 97, a former Bombadier in the Royal Artillery who landed in Normandy three days after D-Day to man an ack ack battery, danced in the arrivals hall.
He says: “I went back to Normandy to remember my fallen comrades for the 50th, the 60th and 70th anniversaries. I could not miss the 75th. We must never forget them.”
Before Normandy he had manned guns trying to protect the city of Coventry against the German blitzkrieg.
Tears in his eyes, Harry Cullen, 96, from Wigan, Lancs, raised a glass to his friends and comrades who did not return.
Harry, who served with the Royal Armoured Services Crops attached to the Canadian Army, said: “God bless those who didn’t return. I’m nearly 97 years old and I think about those lads every day.
“I’m not a great swimmer but I would have happily swum 95 miles back to Portsmouth to avoid the sights I saw.”
Veterans also boarded a ferry in Portsmouth which was escorted into the Channel by Royal Navy vessels, the Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans and four P2000 patrol vessels – HMS Puncher, Biter, Pursuer and Explorer.
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