IT WAS the last time they will ever stand together, but their courage and camaraderie will never be forgotten.
More than 250 veteran sailors and Royal Marines gathered for a service on Hayling Island to mark the final reunion of the Landing Ship Tank and Landing Craft Association.
The service at St Mary’s Church was a proud moment tinged with sadness as the association’s National Standard was laid up in the medieval church for safe-keeping.
Most of the veterans, who travelled from far and wide to Hayling, had been involved in the daring amphibious raids during the Second World – including the Normandy Landings – which ultimately helped Allied Forces seal victory.
Since 1988 they have held national reunions around the country, but have decided to call it day as many of the veterans have died or are getting too old to travel.
Hayling Island was chosen to be the home of the National Standard as many trained at HMS Northney during the early 40s.
They have been staying at Mill Rythe Holiday Village this week for the reunion.
For some, seeing their shipmates brought all the memories back.
Ronald Miles, 89, from Oxfordshire, who lived in a children’s hospital on Hayling while he was training for the landings, said: ‘Dieppe was really scary.
‘We lost 900 Canadians in two hours. Everyone here is a friend.’
Geoffrey Noble, 86, from Yorkshire, said he felt ‘rather sad’ it would be the final reunion.
‘Age has caught up with us unfortunately,’ he said.
‘The bulk of us were in D-Day. I was in the first wave at Gold Beach. It was not very nice at all.
‘We were just young lads. I feel sorry for all the soldiers who are missing today.’
The service was full of poignant moments for reflection, including the Last Post on the bugle and a two-minute silence.
Ann Cutter, 70, from Yorkshire, is the National Standard bearer and handed over the flag.
She said: ‘It was quite emotional. I have carried it for a long time.’
Canon Roger Devonshire, who led the service, commented on the veterans’ ‘unique brand of camaraderie’.
He said: ‘Some measure of courage is always presented when men or women put their lives at risk to save or preserve the lives of others.
‘In this situation, generations of sailors have claimed they were simply doing their job.’