D-Day 70: ‘I was just lucky someone up there was looking after me’

A Merlin helicopter from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose has been training with HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth Naval Base as part of her Rotary Wing Trials

Helicopter puts flight deck crew through its paces

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VETERAN George Clarkson hasn’t visited the D-Day beaches in more than 50 years.

But the 90-year-old is joining scores of his former comrades making an emotional return to the site of the landings.

George Clarkson ''''Picture: Sarah Standing (141622-8350)

George Clarkson ''''Picture: Sarah Standing (141622-8350)

Mr Clarkson, who served with the Royal Engineers Guards Armoured Division, wanted to revisit Normandy one year ago but fell ill before boarding the ferry at Dover and was forced to cancel.

He said he felt fortunate to be able to return for the 70th anniversary of a day that changed history.

‘It will bring it all back to life, to see it all again,’ said Mr Clarkson, of Fareham, at a veterans’ reception at Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard.

‘I was lucky. Somebody up there was looking after me.

‘When I was a young boy I used to say my prayers every night. It worked out.’

Mr Clarkson, who lives in Fareham, last returned to the D-Day beaches in 1957.

At the dockyard, a group of 50 British veterans were shown around a restored D-Day landing craft MGB 81, where there was a dedication ceremony.

A set of bagpipes made specially for the anniversary were played by John Millin of Nottingham.

Mr Millin is the son of legendary piper Bill Millin, who played as bullets were hailing around him in the first wave of the assault on Sword Beach 70 years ago.

Veteran Royal Navy gunner Nick Rumble, 88, said he was pleased to see 30 US veterans also at the commemoration.

Mr Rumble, of Hull, said: ‘It is always a good event, but a sad event.

‘Each individual has his own thoughts of days gone by.’

The charity D-Day Revisited is organising the veterans’ trip to France.

Treasurer and secretary of the group, Victoria Phipps, said this would be the last big anniversary many veterans would be alive to attend.

Ms Phipps said: ‘We normally have a lot of cancellations, but this year there’s been none. Everyone’s making a special effort to get there and they’re feeling really nostalgic.’

Mr Clarkson – making the trip with his 50-year-old son David – said he was also hoping to see some of the French countryside.

He said he remembered a lucky escape he had one night after the landings when he was watching over an orchard in Normandy.

‘I was on guard duty and all of a sudden – bang! Bonk on my forehead. It wasn’t a bullet, but it was an apple.

‘A sniper hit the tree above me and knocked it off.’

US Army veteran Morton Katz, 95, of Connecticut, said he would be returning to Normandy for the first time since 1977. Mr Katz said: ‘It’s very moving.

‘We’re going to visit some cemeteries over there.’

In France, the veterans will lay wreaths at Ranville Cemetery and the Bayeux British Cemetery.

The group will attend a memorial ceremony at Sword Beach in Ouistreham tomorrow, the anniversary of the landings.

Heads of state including the Queen, US president Barack Obama, German chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian president Vladimir Putin and French president François Hollande will also attend the ceremony.