CHILDREN in Portsmouth were left in awe after they met a group of D-Day war heroes on a visit to the city.
The veterans were stopping by the Historic Dockyard before sailing over to France yesterday to mark the 72nd anniversary of the pivotal Second World War invasion.
While visiting the attraction, the veterans spoke to scores of youngsters, who were stunned by the chance encounter.
It came a day after the group of ex-servicemen regaled Prince Harry with their wartime tales when they met him at Southwick House, Southwick.
John Phipps is the chairman of the D-Day Revisited charity and has organised this year’s trip back to Normandy.
Speaking of the day at the dockyard, he said: ‘It was an incredible sight. The children were staring at the veterans with their mouths open.
‘They were amazed to see all these old men with chests full of medals. For a 10-year-old to reach out and touch and talk to a Normandy veteran who ran out on the beaches or parachuted from the sky is incredible.
‘It’s literally reaching back into history and touching it.’
The visit came on the eve of the D-Day anniversary, which will see the world pausing to remember all those killed during the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.
The veterans were treated to a special tour of the Historic Dockyard and had the chance to see HMS Victory and HMS Warrior.
They were later welcomed by Portsmouth’s lord mayor councillor David Fuller and the former First Sea Lord and now chairman of The National Museum of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band.
John Grange, who was recently awarded France’s highest medal for bravery the Legion d’Honneur for his part in D-Day, was at the event.
The 91-year-old, of Middlesbrough, was a signalman with the Royal Navy in the war and dodged flak from the Nazi’s deadly 88mm guns which were blasting the landing crafts and ships.
He said: ‘It’s an experience I just can’t explain. It was an adventure but sometimes you just hated every second of it.’
Speaking of the horrors on the Normandy beaches, he said: ‘After two days the sand on Omaha beach was still full of bodies of the dead.’
Bob Reeves, 93, of Exeter, was on one of the landing craft during the invasion and was looking forward to paying his respects to his fallen comrades buried at the Bayeux War Cemetery.
‘It’s going to be very emotional. I lost some good friends,’ he added.
The veterans are due to arrive in France today. Peter Goodship, consultant chief executive of the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust, said it was an honour to welcome them to Portsmouth.