D-Day veterans in France to remember 79 years since the Normandy Landings

Watch an interview with Nick Suffolk from the Hampshire Cultural Trust talking about the build-up to D-Day in the South.

June 6 1944 saw 156,000 troops cross the English Channel - the largest fighting force ever assembled at sea. Most of the ships set off from ports across the South coast including Shoreham, Southampton, Portsmouth and Poole.

The aim of the Allies was to secure a foothold on the beaches at Normandy from which to liberate France and finally end World War Two in Europe.

Jack Quinn was one of the first to arrive at the beaches, coxswain on an amphibious craft dropping off a group of frogmen whose task was to blow up mines that would be an obstacle to the troops.

The former Royal Marine, who's 98, was awarded France's highest military honour, the Croix de Guerre, for his actions. He went on to pick up two agents delivered near Arromanches by the French Resistance, coming under fire.

''They run onto my boat right,'' he said. ''And we were off. Firing after us yes. And my stern sheetsman, that's the fellah on the back of the boat he got shot. Because he kept looking. I kept telling him to keep his head down. but he got shot.

Former Royal Marine Jack Quinn talks about D-Day

Alec Penston, whose 98, was on an escort carrier HMS Campania as the invasion force gathered in the Solent. Such was the level of secrecy, he knew little about what was going on.

''We were anchored and all I could see was a mass of ships and houses,'' he said. ''And trees and I thought where on earth because nobody told you. What was happening on those days. And one of the bunting tossers came down from the bridge and said 'I've seen the Needles, we're off the Isle of Wight' That's the only time I knew. And the whole sea was covered with ships

Operation Overlord as it was named was the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare. British, American and Canadian - landed on five beaches in Normandy. The invasion was the start of a long and costly campaign that eventually led to the end of war in Europe.

It took many months to prepare and communities would have noticed the huge build up of troops. Troops assembled in marshalling camps in places such as the New Forest as ports from Newhaven to Weymouth readied themselves to send off ships.

One person who witnessed this first hand was Marie Scott. A member of the Women's Royal Naval Service (or Wrens) she was based at Fort Southwick in Portsmouth, the hub of communications as soldiers landed on beaches in Normandy. She relayed messages to troops on the beaches. And has returned for this year's commemorations.

''I am always very moved by it, very moved,'' she said. ''To me I can only think that some of those people maybe that I was talking to on that day may have died. So to me it's always emotional and moving.''

There are still signs of this monumental military effort across the South, particularly off our coastline. At Lepe Country Park you can see the remains of structures that were part of the project to tow a huge artificial harbour known as Mulberry across the English Channel. Also remnants linked to the embarkation of men, vehicles and supplies.

The Hampshire Cultural Trust manages a collection of thousands of photographs taken in the South in the run up to June 1944. Some are on view at Milestones Living History Museum in Basingstoke.

Nick Suffolk, Head of Heritage Experiences for the Hampshire Cultural Trust said:

‘’Everyone had been through a lot of long years of war at this time, and I think there must have been a feeling that something big was going to change.

‘’You've got all this going on, on your doorstep. You've got to be looking at the soldiers, wishing them well. Perhaps you actually got to know them a little bit and chat to them while they're in your street. Or at a camp near you.

"So it would have been quite an emotional thing. Of course, lots of people had sons that were actually in the army, so you must have been wondering if they were in another part of the country about to go out there as well.’’

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...