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Veterans arrive in France for D-Day anniversary

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Veterans arrive in France for D-Day anniversary

Indy Almroth-Wright,Anjana Gadgill

Watch: RAF flypast honours D-Day veterans

D-Day veterans from the UK have arrived in France to join commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

About 25 former servicemen made the ferry crossing from Portsmouth.

Well-wishers lined the route to watch as they departed, on what is likely to be the last time veterans will make the journey to France.

The group also laid a wreath at sea while just off the French coastline to remember those who never made it to shore.

PA D-Day veterans Harry Birdsall, 98, and Alec Penstone (front), 98, throw a wreath into the sea during the Spirit of Normandy Trust wreath-laying service just off the French coastline, to remember those who never made it to shorePA

D-Day veterans Harry Birdsall, 98, and Alec Penstone (front), 98, threw a wreath into the sea

PA Veteran John Dennett, 99, from Liverpool, was emotional during the ceremony on board the Mont St Michel.PA

D-Day veteran John Dennett, 99, from Liverpool, was emotional during the ceremony on board the Mont St Michel

D-Day veterans Harry Birdsall, 98, and Alec Penstone, 98, threw a wreath into the English Channel during the journey.

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

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.

PA D-Day veteran Bernard Morgan (left), 100, from Crewe, salutes as veteran Harry Birdsall, 98, from Wakefield, gets emotional as he travels on the Brittany Ferries ship Mont St MichelPA

D-Day veterans Bernard Morgan (left), 100, from Crewe, and Jack Mortimer, 100, from Leeds were among those onboard

Veteran John Dennett

Veteran John Dennett was among those sailing 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 who landed in Sword Beach on 6 June 1944.

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

“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,” he told News Portal Space News.

“I like to visit all the cemeteries in Normandy and I’m lucky to be able to do so.

“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.”

Watch: D-Day veterans set sail for France
PA (Left to right) Royal Navy Commander Glen Hinson, D-Day veteran Jim Grant and Royal Navy Commodore John BoycePA

(Left to right) Royal Navy Commander Glen Hinson, D-Day veteran Jim Grant and Royal Navy Commodore John Boyce

Image Here

PA Media D-Day veterans gather on the deck of the Mont St MichelPA Media

The veterans gathered on the deck of Mont St Michel as it left the UK

John, who turns 100 next month, said he has not been 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.”

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 Media Flypast by an RAF A400 and tugboat spraying water as ferry with veterans left PortsmouthPA Media

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

The Jedburgh Pipe Band played the ferry out of the harbour

The Jedburgh Pipe Band played the ferry out of the harbour

Three people on the Round Tower, Portsmouth waving flags

Well-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.”

 Reuters Veterans on Brittany Ferries ship Mont St Michel smiling and waving Reuters

The 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.”

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

PA Media Crowds in Portsmouth waving Union and D-Day flags as the ferry passedPA Media

Crowds cheered the ferry as it passed

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