VETERANS from the D-Day landings have had a chance to see the boat used by Churchill and Eisenhower to review the armada ahead of the Normandy landings which changed the course of the Second World War.
More than 30 former servicemen, all in their 80s and 90s, have travelled from the United States to join 50 British and European veterans to visit the D-Day boats at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Hampshire, before they travel to France for the 70th anniversary commemorations in Normandy.
Among the veterans were members of the the Millin Pipe Team who have travelled with their families and carers from the Highlands en route to Sword Beach. They are commemorating Piper Bill Millin who played his pipes while the D-Day landings went on around him to inspire the troops.
His son, John Millin, received a replica set of pipes which were conveyed to the dockyard on board MTB102, known as RASC Vimy, which was used by war-time prime minister Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower, the Allies’ Supreme Commander.
Mr Millin, 59, from Rampton, Nottinghamshire, said: “This is an emotional day, even more so that my father isn’t here any more. He spent his post-war years playing the pipes so that the memories [of the D-Day veterans] and what they did wouldn’t be forgotten.”
The visit by the US veterans was made possible by the Remember Those Who Served, The Greatest Generations Foundation.
Basil Woolf, 91, from Dunedin, Florida, who landed on Sword Beach, said: “I am very happy to be here, I could have been under the ground like the rest of them so it’s good to be here.”
Jim Baker, 91, from Blackpool, a Royal Marine Commando, was involved in the second wave on Juno Beach on D-Day and went on to make 22 landings bringing American troops to the shore.
He said that he felt privileged to meet the US veterans and added: “It’s a chance to meet the men who gave the present generation their freedom, those guys, they may not look very much now but by God, they did the job, I am very glad to be associated with them.”
Steve Conyngham, from Liverpool, is making his first trip back to Normandy at the age of 92. Serving in the Royal Air Force, he landed at Arromanches on a tank-landing craft. He said: “I remember going over on a landing craft on a beautiful sunny day, lying back thinking, this is great, I didn’t know what it was going to be like.
“My memories are of confusion, it was just chaotic.
“I think it will look a lot different to how I imagine it in my mind, it’s so long ago. Recently, I have been thinking about it a lot.”
As well as the vessel used by Churchill, the veterans were able to see the MGB81, one of the lead boats for Sword Beach; the HSL102, which rescued downed airmen from the sea and the HDML 1387, which acted as a channel marker for Omaha Beach for giving direction to advancing invasion boats.
They are the only known remaining operational boats of the 7,000 that took part in the D-Day landings on 6 June, 1944.