D-Day veterans take to the seas to mark 75th anniversary of Normandy Landings

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D-Day veterans have gathered for a group photograph to mark a Royal British Legion cruise to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the landings.

Hundreds of Second World War heroes, aged 91 to 101, are taking part in a week-long voyage taking in Portsmouth, Poole and northern France.

D-Day Veteran Joe Cattini, 95, who was in the Hertfordshire Yeomanry and landed on Gold Beach on D-Day, waves after boarding a Brittany ferry to Caen and the Normandy beaches to pay their respects to fallen comrades. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

D-Day Veteran Joe Cattini, 95, who was in the Hertfordshire Yeomanry and landed on Gold Beach on D-Day, waves after boarding a Brittany ferry to Caen and the Normandy beaches to pay their respects to fallen comrades. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The group stood on the deck of the MV Boudicca after it docked in Dunkirk yesterday.

After the photograph, many of the veterans remained outside and spent hours talking about their experiences.

Others took a bus to the city of Dunkirk, including Stanley Elliss, 97, who visited the beach there for the first time.

His brother Leonard fought in the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940, where he was feared dead in the water before being rescued.

After walking on the sand with daughter Sue Stevens, Mr Elliss said his brother was evacuated on to a ship which was then sunk with him on board.

“He was in the water for quite a while and this ship came along with some of the Navy people picking up the survivors,” he said.

“[They said] ‘Don’t worry about him, he’s dead’. ‘I’m not dead’, he said in a big voice and they pulled him up. He survived to fight in the Middle East. So that was quite a lucky thing for him.”

Leonard Elliss, who died in 2008, was one of six siblings to serve during the war, including two sisters with the Royal Voluntary Service. All survived.

Stanley Elliss, an RAF sergeant who was commando-trained, arrived with his comrades on Gold Beach.

He was deployed to capture, secure and fit out for operational use a German airstrip at Beny-sur-Mer ready for Spitfire squadrons supporting the invasion.

He described how they stepped into “about a foot of water” before walking on to the beach and being warned about German snipers.

Mr Elliss, of Kent, said: “I’ve been to France quite a few times but to be close to the beaches, it’s really a marvellous thought. It’s something I didn’t think was going to happen a year ago and I’m looking forward to being on the beach at Arromanches.

“It’s been a great surprise to be involved in such a good exercise. I can’t thank the people who have raised it enough.”

Vincent Horton, 93, from Stoke, said he had not spoken to his family about his time on Juno Beach on D-Day.

“I was waiting in the wings because I went in on D+1,” Mr Horton said.

“I was at Juno with the Royal Marines 48 Battalion and many Canadians. I was what they called Combined Ops.

“A lot of people are talking about what happened on D-Day but there are a lot of things that happened away from D-Day. I never talk to my children about what happened on D-Day.”

On Sunday, the veterans boarded the ship at Dover and were welcomed by the Dover Sea Cadet Band and a guard of honour.

Rod Stewart performed his 1975 hit Sailing for those on board, with a recording by Dame Vera Lynn also played.

In the message, Dame Vera said: “It will be nostalgic and sure to bring back lots of memories. Rest assured we will never forget all you did for us.”

Today, the veterans will watch an amphibious display by the Royal Navy in Poole Harbour while tomorrow they will attend the national commemorative event in Portsmouth before travelling to Normandy for events in Bayeux and Arromanches on Thursday, the 75th anniversary.