D-Day veterans sail to Normandy but don’t try to call them heroes – they won’t have it | World News

The bagpipes were the first sound that hit us as we walked out on deck, then the horns of other boats around us.

Boats from the Royal Navy spraying water cannon, and a low-flying RAF plane dipping its wing, all adding to the sense of occasion as we set sail on the ferry from Portsmouth. A proper send-off and a celebration of service.

Some of the veterans had only been teenagers when they first made that journey towards hell on the Normandy beaches in France.

(L-R)) D-Day veterans John Life and Donald Jones return to Sword Beach in Normandy, France, where they landed 80 years ago. Pic: PA

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Fewer of them are around now. In 2019, over 200 could make this journey for D-Day events, now it’s just over 30.

As they sat and smiled with their mates, and made the odd cheeky joke, there were also tears as they remembered the friends who didn’t come back.

They talked about the carnage of it all, the death, but don’t try to call them heroes. They won’t have it.

The real heroes are the ones in graves in France, they will tell you, the ones they were making every effort to travel for, despite their frailty, so they could pay their respects.

With a band playing Elgar’s Nimrod and a bugler sounding the last post, we stopped in the middle of the Channel for a service at sea.

Prayers said a wreath was dropped overboard for those who never made it to Normandy 80 years ago.

Read more:
Last member of D-Day veterans group to scatter comrades’ ashes
D-Day in numbers – Notable figures from invasion
Eleven things you might not know about D-Day

Veteran Donald Jones reacts as he returns to Sword Beach in Normandy. Pic: PA
Donald Jones. Pic: PA

Most of the men, and their families, know this will probably be the last time they make this trip, making those small acts of remembrance for their comrades even more important to them all.

Arriving in France, and despite a long day already, there was one stop a small group of veterans still wanted to make.

Sword beach. Now a place of peace. Where people were eating ice cream and cycling along the beachside path.

D-Day veterans Bernard Morgan and an emotional Harry Birdsall.
Pic: PA
D-Day veterans Bernard Morgan and an emotional Harry Birdsall. Pic: PA

Two little sailing boats on the calm flat seas.

It was a picture of the freedoms they fought for.

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A striking contrast to the horrors they saw, that makes it even more impossible for us to imagine what they faced.

As we filmed them walking with current serving soldiers I could not even start to guess the memories it must have triggered for these remarkable men.

But at least in their generosity, of sharing their stories, we can at least make sure that we never forget them.


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