As they boarded MV Boudicca, veterans spoke warmly of the reception they had been given by Portsmouth and recalled the very different circumstances of the journey they undertook on June 5 1944.
Richard Wood, 95, did his naval training in Portsmouth and served as a stoker in the engine room on HMS Jervis.
Richard said: ‘I had a very good day and got to speak to Prince Charles. I said that I had met him a few times before but hadn’t got the chance to speak to him. He told me “you haven’t missed much”. I didn’t know anybody else here today but it was great to speak to other veterans who were involved in the same battle and to hear their stories.’
Like many of the veterans, Richard had his own story to tell.
‘HMS Jervis was a destroyer and it was our job to offer artillery support to the troops landing on the beaches. You would have been amazed at what was going on - shells were exploding all round us, paratroopers were descending from the sky and landing craft were heading ashore. How anyone landing on the shoreline survived I will never know. We were fortunate in that we didn’t get hit,’ explained Richard.
Away from the ceremonial tributes, Richard hopes to pay his own private respects to those who never returned to Portsmouth.
‘I lost many friends in the conflict and I hope to visit the war graves when we arrive in Bayeux and Arromanches. I have been travelling back to France for many years to remember those who died. This may well be the last time I make this journey,’ added Richard.
Fellow veteran, Raymond Harry Simmonds, 97, served in the Royal Navy on an LST 63 landing craft. Raymond’s job was to provide a safe passage to bring tanks and troops ashore.
‘It was a pretty scary experience but it needed to be done. Today has been an excellent experience and the people of Portsmouth have been fantastic,’ he said.
Jim George, 96, who served in the Gordon Highlanders, added: ‘I have mixed emotions about today. Pride in what we achieved but sadness at the lives which were lost.’
Also boarding MV Boudicca to join the veterans on their crossing to France was the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, David Fuller.
Cllr Fuller said: ‘It has been an exhausting but fantastic day and the city has been commended for the fitting tribute we gave. You cannot comprehend what these veterans went through and the incredible bravery they showed. It is important we continue to remember those people who were lost and I personally thanked those veterans I met for what they had done.’
As Boudicca departed the harbour the veterans were given a rousing reception from the hundreds of people who lined the harbour walls.
For Hayling Island resident, Roger Davies, the sight of the veterans once again departing Portsmouth for Normandy brought a fitting end to the day’s commemorations.
‘It was symbolic to see those men depart today as they did 75 years ago. I wanted to be here to witness their departure and to show my support for what they did,’ he explained.
As a former Royal Navy serviceman, Chris Kenyon, was keen to attend the departure and pay his own tribute.
‘It’s so important we remember the sacrifices made and that we are grateful for what this generation has done. For many of these veterans it is almost certainly the last time they will make this journey,’ he said.
Wife, Eileen Kenyon, added: ‘I wanted to come down and see the veterans off and to show my appreciation for what they have done. Without them we wouldn’t have the freedom we have today.’
Mother and daughter, Kathryn and Lucy Moffit, summed up the feelings of the crowd by displaying a home-made banner with the simple message ‘Thank You’.
Lucy said: ‘There is nothing comparable in our lives to the courage shown by these veterans.’
Kathryn added: ‘My father fought in the Second World War and as time passes it is so important that younger generations learn about the sacrifices this generation made.’
As Boudicca headed out into the Channel, veterans were given an official escort and sail past by a fleet of naval vessels. One ship taking part in the maritime tribute was HMS Northumberland.
Captain, Ally Pollard, commented: ‘It’s a huge privilege for the ship’s company to be a part of this commemorative event. We have come up from Devonport to participate in the sail past. For the sailors on board it is a time to reflect on the challenges and requirements placed on our forebears and to honour the sacrifices they made. I have been involved in both the 60th and 70th anniversary of D-Day on different ships so it was brilliant to be a part of this one - it is a huge privilege.’