VETERANS who fought on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day were hailed heroes by the Princess Royal as she opened a museum honouring their courage.
Princess Anne flew into Portsmouth by helicopter today to officially open the D-Day Story, in Southsea.
As well as unveiling a plaque to mark the occasion, Princess Anne was also given a tour of the new Southsea heritage gem after its £5m revamp.
She took the time to meet museum volunteers, staff and those who helped make the multi-million pound upgrade a reality.
And the royal relished in meeting veterans from Portsmouth who risked their lives to take part in the pivotal invasion, on June 6, 1944.
Speaking to the crowd moments after completing her tour and unveiling the new plaque, the princess said she was impressed by the overhauled museum.
She said: ‘This is a museum that has already set some standards in terms of telling the story but this really does up the ante in terms of the way it has been put together.
‘You have all those personal stories. These were the people who made D-Day special and that’s a very tricky mix as a museum and I do think that is done particularly well here.’
The Clarence Esplanade attraction is the only one in Britain dedicated to the D-Day invasion, opening on Good Friday after its makeover.
Among the veterans present was Arthur Bailey, who landed on Gold Beach. He was quizzed by the princess on his role during the Normandy invasion.
The 94-year-old, of Cosham, said: ‘It was very nice indeed to meet the Princess Royal. I was so surprised. She was such a lovely woman. I was thrilled to bits to come and meet her.’
RAF veteran Stan Hartill, 97, of Bournemouth, dodged a blood transfusion appointment to see the royal – his second time meeting her.
He served as ground crew during the Battle of Britain and later helped set up the first runway for Spitfires to land in Normandy.
Reflecting on his D-Day story, he said: ‘When we sailed from Gosport the morale was so high because we thought: “this is it, we’re going to finish it after so many years”.
‘We didn’t want it to drag on for another 10 years. We wanted to get it finished, beat the Germans and come back home – and we did a bloody good job of it too.’
Heritage minister Michael Ellis said: ‘D-Day was one of the most significant operations of the Second World War. It paved the way for the Allied victory in Europe.
‘I am delighted that this exhibition, supported by National Lottery players, is preserving the extraordinary stories behind this pivotal moment in British history.’
City council leader Councillor Donna Jones said she was ‘delighted’ by the princess’s visit, adding the site would tell the story of D-Day for generations to come.