‘It was the greatest battle ever. We knew we had to win it because if we failed we would have lost everything to Germany.’
Those were the words of Arthur Bailey, one of only two surviving D-Day Normandy veterans from Portsmouth attending a remembrance service and an unveiling of a tribute wall outside the D-Day Story today – marking exactly 74 years since the brave men and women set sail for the battle.
Arthur, 94, was joined by his 98-year-old comrade, John Jenkins MBE, who fought alongside him on June 6, 1944. They were two of thousands of others who took part in the largest seaborne invasion in history – and many never returned.
The operation began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control and laid the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front.
The Rev Canon Peter Leonard led the way at a memorial service at the D-Day Memorial Stone.
‘We honour them and give thanks for all they did,’ he said.
Veterans marched and wreaths were laid while poignant hymns were sung as people flocked to the scene to honour the veterans who preserved our way of life in the face of the Nazis.
Army veteran Henry Wells, 91, from Emsworth, who joined the war effort post-Normandy in 1945, said: ‘It’s such a shame that so many lost their lives. It brings back a lot of memories being here.’
A further tribute was then bestowed on the veterans at the D-Day Story with the unveiling of the Wall of Remembrance – a wall with 10,000 bricks where the names of those who served can be remembered forever in a lasting legacy by having their name engraved.
Nigel Atkinson, the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, told the gathering it was a ‘very special day for Portsmouth’ with him highlighting the ‘pivotal role’ the city played.
One of the trustees of the wall, Tim Rusby, who came up with the scheme, said: ‘It gives families the chance to honour those who served in Normandy.’
Funds raised from the bricks go towards education.