Cruise ship chartered to take Normandy veterans to D-Day events

Veteran John Roberts, 95, from Whitstable, on a jeep as he arrives at the cruise terminal Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Veterans have arrived in Dover to board a ship chartered by the Royal British Legion ahead of commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The ship, MV Boudicca, departs on Sunday evening ahead of a week of events to mark the anniversary of the biggest amphibious invasion in history.

Sir Rod Stewart will perform for the Second World War veterans on the ship before it leaves - serenading them with his 1975 hit Sailing.

The veterans will have the opportunity to visit beaches in Dunkirk on Monday before watching a display by the Royal Navy in Poole Harbour on Tuesday.

They will attend the National Commemorative Event in Portsmouth on Wednesday before travelling to Normandy for events in Bayeux and Arromanches.

The ship returns to Portsmouth on Saturday before concluding its journey in Dover on Sunday.

Jim Docherty, 94, had not spoken of his role as an able seaman with the Royal Navy on D-Day until he was invited on the week-long voyage about five months ago.

"I was on board the HMS Obedient, a destroyer," Mr Docherty, of Glasgow, said.

"I’ve never been back to Normandy before. I never thought it would happen.

"I might meet some of the people I used to know but I don’t think there are many left."

Rear Admiral John Roberts, 95, from Whitstable, was serving as a sub lieutenant on D-Day.

"I was in a ringside seat," he said.

"There were bombers, battle ships - everything was firing at the shore but it was a success and we knew that almost by the end of that day.

"We caught the Germans by surprise. They didn’t think we were going to come there."

Ted Smith, 62, vice-chairman of the Dover branch of the Royal British Legion, welcomed each of the veterans to the port.

“It has been very emotional,” he said.

"If it hadn’t been for these guys where would we be today?"

More than 330 veterans were visited in their homes by Legion staff ahead of the commemorations.

Travel plans and events for each veteran to attend were agreed following consultation with their families and carers.

In total, 250 veterans will take part in the week-long voyage on MV Boudicca.

A further 80 UK veterans, with funded travel available through the charity, and 60 international veterans will attend the National Commemorative Event in Portsmouth.

For those unable to undertake the ship’s journey to Normandy, the Legion secured 30 purpose-built twin rooms in Caen to allow veterans to fully participate in events in France.

The Services of Remembrance at Bayeux Cathedral and at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Bayeux will be attended by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.

A Service of Remembrance will also be held at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, attended by 20 veterans.

In addition, the Legion’s community teams will host hundreds of local events across the UK.

Large lettering spelling "D-Day 75", covered in messages of support and remembrance from members of the public, will also be placed in Arromanches for veterans to read.

Credit: PA Graphics

Lt Gen James Bashall CB CBE, national president of the charity, said: "The Legion is hugely proud to be working in partnership with HM Government, Portsmouth City Council and many others to mark the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings.

"From the beginning of planning these commemorations it has been the Legion’s guiding principle to ensure our Normandy veterans are treated with the honour, dignity and respect they deserve.

"The men and women of our Second World War generation lost loved ones, dedicated vast parts of their lives to the war effort, and saw horrors of war we can only imagine today.

"The Legion wholeheartedly encourages the public to come out in recognition of our veterans’ immense bravery, line the shores as the Legion ship passes, and attend the many events happening across the nation and beyond.

"The liberation of Normandy went on for many months after the D-Day landings, and it is important that we remember all those who played a role, from the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth and the Allied Forces.

"A tremendous sacrifice was made for the peace, democracy and diversity we know today, and we must pass on the torch of Remembrance to new generations, today, tomorrow and forever."