Twelve youngsters from Royal Naval and Royal Marines Volunteer Cadet Corps based in Whale Island, HMS Sultan in Gosport and HMS Collingwood in Fareham, sailed out with Normandy hero Joe Cattini in a fleet of three historic war vessels.
The effort, supported by the Portsmouth Naval Property Trust, aimed to mark Armed Forces Day, with weekend events nationally having been curtailed for second year running due to the pandemic.
Politicians, veterans and cadets toured the harbour in the restored F8 landing craft, used in the Falklands, HSL102, which rescued airmen during the Battle of Britain, and gunboat MGB81, which was used at Normandy on D-Day.
Mr Cattini, 98, who served with the Royal Artillery during the Second World War, including D-Day and the liberation of France, Belgium and Holland, spoke to cadets about his time.
He said: ‘The cadets were lovely. I really hope they learned something.
‘I told them all about the landings on the Normandy beaches and the fact that when you’re young and inexperienced you can get very scared and disoriented. That’s what happened with a lot of the young infantrymen.
‘They were scared, disoriented and didn’t know what to do, which is why a lot of them got killed. They were easy targets and didn’t realise they had to get off the beach as quick;y as possible.
‘It wasn’t a pleasant experience for youngsters. It’s an experience I will never forget.’
Royal Marine cadet William Midgley, 15, was among those to join the flotilla and said he had been inspired by the heroics of Mr Cattini.
‘He is an amazing person and it’s great to meet people like him,’ said the schoolboy from Portsmouth. ‘It was a great experience meeting him.’
Mr Healey described the afternoon as a ‘very special one’. He said: ‘The way the veterans have been able to share their stories has been an inspiration to the cadets and an inspiration to us as politicians.
‘Our armed forces work to protect the country and keep us all safe, theirs is the ultimate public service. They’ve played an essential part in helping the nation through the Covid crisis and Labour is proud that British forces are respected worldwide for their all-round excellence – training allies, fighting terrorism, securing open seas, peacekeeping in conflicts.
‘Armed Forces Week is a special week when we can all say a special “thank you” for the service and sacrifice of our forces, their families and veterans.’
Portsmouth South MP Mr Morgan said he was delighted to have been part of the event and insisted that Labour and the entire country stood behind the armed forces.
‘It’s been fantastic, we have got a nine-year-old cadet here today mixing with a 98-year-old D-Day veteran - that’s something pretty special and a really good way to hopefully inspire the next generation of people to come through to service,’ he added.