D-Day 75 veterans make emotional journey across Channel to Normandy to commemorate fallen heroes
‘TO DO what they did took unbelievable bravery. I cannot think of anything worse than landing on the beach in Normandy and then having the enemy shooting at you,’ veteran George Watkins said
The 96-year-old was among those described mockingly as ‘D-Day dodgers’ after being being posted to Italy instead of going into battle for the world’s largest ever seaborne invasion that began the Allied liberation of Nazi occupied France.
But Mr Watkins, serving with the Kings Dragon Guards, said he was devastated to miss out on the D-Day landings – highlighting the incredible spirit of those serving their country.
‘I was hoping to go out but was sent to Italy which I was very angry about – I was hoping to go to France,’ he said. ‘But they are true heroes for what they did. They deserve to be honoured.’
In a poignant commemoration as part of the build up to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, veterans were making the same journey across the Channel they made three quarters of a century ago. This time though, they were not heading into the abyss for battle but to remember those who did – and never returned.
About 40 veterans gathered at Portsmouth International Port before embarking a Brittany Ferries ship with a naval escort across the sea to Normandy to kick off the beginning of the anniversary week.
Four D-Day vessels – two either side of the ferry at the stern – were followed by a frigate and then followed by Little Dunkirk Ships. A Canadian destroyer visiting the UK provided a gun salute as the procession passed South Railway Jetty.
Harry Rawlins, 93, who was sent over as a reinforcer for D-Day while serving in the Royal Rifles, said: ‘I was a very keen soldier who was just 17 at the time. I remember being so excited – I loved it.
‘You accepted there would be danger but you did not think about it that much. My platoon commander Michael Howe-Hewlett was shot dead while talking to me – he was talking too long. He was a first class bloke.’
Mr Rawlins, of Edgware, London, recalled how he discovered eight German soldiers while he was on his own after being separated from his comrades.
He said: ‘I came across some Germans in a farm after spotting a man waving a white rag. I looked down and told them to come out. There was eight of them.
‘I wasn’t worried though because I knew they were surrendering. I handed them over to my sergeant.’
Albert Lamond, 94, who was on a frigate scouring the coast for the Royal Navy during the landings, said: ‘I could see them all arriving on the beach. It was brutal. They were all so brave. It is a great privilege to be here for this week to remember the sacrifices made.’
Edwin Leadbitler, 94, who served in a warship for the Royal Navy that sunk enemy U-boats precipitating the sinking of the German’s mighty warship the Bismarck, said: ‘If you had time to think it would have been scary but you just got on with it. I’m looking forward to this week. It will be special for veterans to go back.’
Dick Goodwin, organiser of Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, which helped rally former service personnel for the commemorations in Normandy, said: ‘We’ve got veterans from all over who are going.
‘Sadly some could not make it – they were very upset. It will be such a special occasion. Everyone’s really looking forward to all the remembrance events and meeting the dignitaries.’