D-Day veterans share harrowing experiences of landings on board British Legion ship

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

D-Day veterans have gathered to mark the 75th anniversary of the landings by retracing their journey to Normandy, on board a Royal British Legion cruise.

Heroes from the Second World War, aged 91 to 101, are taking part in a week-long voyage on the cruise ship, MV Boudicca.

The group of 300 veterans attended the D-Day commemoration event in Portsmouth on Wednesday, where world leaders and members of the Royal Family gathered, and will travel on to Normandy for events in Bayeux and Arromanches.

They boarded the ship on Sunday evening, and travelled to the beaches in Dunkirk, France on Monday, before watching a display by the Royal Navy in Poole Harbour on Tuesday.

Veterans mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings at a commemoration event. Credit: AP

Frederick Brunt is one of the veteran on board the ship and shared his harrowing experience of the D-Day landings.

He told ITV News: "There were soldiers lying dead in their landing craft, they didn't even step foot on the beach or in the water or anything, that was very sad, that was the sad part, it was quite a frightening experience.

"But after that we all got together, rounded up the Germans, and it was quite an achievement."

  • Watch: D-Day veterans share their remarkable stories of what happened on 6th June 1944

The heroes stood on the deck of the cruise ship after it docked in Dunkirk to pose for a group photograph.

After the photograph, many of the veterans remained outside and spent hours talking about their experiences.

A group photo of the D-Day veterans travelling on board the MV Boudicca as it arrives into Dunkirk, France. Credit: PA

Others took a bus to the city of Dunkirk, including Stanley Elliss, 97, who visited the beach there for the first time.

His brother Leonard fought in the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940, where he was feared dead in the water before being rescued.

After walking on the sand with daughter Sue Stevens, Mr Elliss said: “My brother was in the Territorials and he came with the British Expeditionary Force and was evacuated on to a ship which was consequently sunk.

“He was in the water for quite a while and this ship came along with some of the Navy people picking up the survivors.

“(They said) ‘Don’t worry about him, he’s dead’. ‘I’m not dead’, he said in a big voice and they pulled him up. He survived to fight in the Middle East. So that was quite a lucky thing for him.”

Stanley Elliss on the beach at Dunkirk. Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Leonard Elliss, who died in 2008, was one of six siblings to serve during the war, including two sisters with the Royal Voluntary Service - all survived.

Stanley Elliss, an RAF sergeant who was commando-trained, arrived with his comrades on Gold Beach.

He was deployed to capture, secure and fit out for operational use a German airstrip at Beny-sur-Mer ready for Spitfire squadrons supporting the invasion.

He described how they stepped into “about a foot of water” before walking on to the beach and being warned about German snipers.

More than 4,000 allied soldiers were killed on D-Day, as they landed on the Normandy beaches.

Mr Elliss, of Kent, said: “I’ve been to France quite a few times but to be close to the beaches, it’s really a marvellous thought.

“It’s something I didn’t think was going to happen a year ago and I’m looking forward to being on the beach at Arromanches later on in the tour.

“It’s been a great surprise to be involved in such a good exercise. I can’t thank the people who have raised it enough.”

Raymond Smith, who was part of the Royal Navy, said the landings are "something that stick in your mind forever."

Veteran Raymond Smith said the landings are 'something that stick in your mind forever.' Credit: ITV News

He told ITV News: "To go back now and see... It's unbelievable, you know, to think how the troops managed to do what they did... and carry on further inland."

The veterans boarded the ship at the Port of Dover on Sunday and were welcomed by the Dover Sea Cadet Band and a guard of honour.

Rod Stewart performed his 1975 hit Sailing for those on board, with a recording by Dame Vera Lynn playing.

In the message, Dame Vera said: “I wish you and your carers a memorable trip to Normandy.

“It will be nostalgic and sure to bring back lots of memories. Rest assured we will never forget all you did for us.”

Rod Stewart with D-Day veteran Leonard Williams. Credit: Hello/PA

Richard Blyth, a Royal Navy veteran, said: "I look back on that period in my life and I think how many other people have had that experience through their 18th year, not everybody can say that.

"I suppose to a certain extent, it may have made me look on life differently but then again I have always lived life for today, because you don't know what's round the corner tomorrow."

Richard Blyth said his experience of the D-Day landings has shaped his perspective on life.

Services of remembrance at Bayeux Cathedral and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery will be attended by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall on Thursday.

Around 20 veterans will also attend a service at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

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