D-Day veterans gather on British Legion ship to mark 75th anniversary

D-Day veterans have gathered for a group photograph to mark a Royal British Legion cruise to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the landings.

A total of 250 Second World War heroes, aged 91 to 101, are taking part in a week-long voyage taking in Portsmouth, Poole and northern France.

The group stood on the deck of the MV Boudicca after it docked in Dunkirk on Monday morning.

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

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

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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
Stanley Elliss on the beach at Dunkirk

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.

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.”

Vincent Horton, 93, from Stoke, said he had not spoken to his family about his time on Juno Beach on D-Day.

“I was waiting in the wings because I went in on D+1,” Mr Horton said.

“I was at Juno with the Royal Marines 48 Battalion and many Canadians. I was what they called Combined Ops.

“A lot of people are talking about what happened on D-Day but there are a lot of things that happened away from D-Day. I never talk to my children about what happened on D-Day.”

On Sunday, the veterans boarded the ship at the Port of Dover 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 also played.

Rod Stewart with D-Day veteran Leonard Williams
Rod Stewart with D-Day veteran Leonard Williams

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.”

On Tuesday, the veterans will watch an amphibious display by the Royal Navy in Poole Harbour.

They will attend the national commemorative event in Portsmouth on Wednesday before travelling to Normandy for events in Bayeux and Arromanches.

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.

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.