Veterans to parachute into Normandy as thousands mark 75th D-Day anniversary

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Thousands of people are preparing to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings at a series of commemoration events in the UK and France this week.

Senior politicians and members of the Royal family as well as hundreds of veterans are set to attend ceremonies to remember what is considered one of the most important events of the Second World War and the biggest amphibious invasion in military history.

Veteran John Roberts, 95, from Whitstable, on a trip arranged by the Royal British Legion for D-Day veterans to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA

Veteran John Roberts, 95, from Whitstable, on a trip arranged by the Royal British Legion for D-Day veterans to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA

More than 200 veterans have boarded a cruise ship charted by the Royal British Legion to attend the events while others are descending en masse on Portsmouth and Normandy.

The ship, MV Boudicca, was to set sail last night after Sir Rod Stewart performed for the Second World War veterans on the vessel before it left - serenading them with his 1975 hit Sailing.

Key ceremonies acknowledging the operation - which saw thousands killed and injured after it launched on 6 June 1944 - include the UK’s national commemoration event on Wednesday which will be attended by the Queen and Donald Trump.

Representatives from other allied countries as well as Germany are expected to attend the event at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial involving 4,000 military personnel, 11 Royal Naval vessels and 26 RAF aircraft.

Soldiers of the U.S. Army ask U.S. D-Day veteran Leonard Jindra, 98, about his service following a small ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery. Picture: Getty

Soldiers of the U.S. Army ask U.S. D-Day veteran Leonard Jindra, 98, about his service following a small ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery. Picture: Getty

US president Mr Trump’s attendance has led to a mass security operation and claims his presence will take the focus away from veterans.

The Hampshire port city will be the focus of other commemorative events throughout the week while international attention shifts to France.

Other events are planned for Poole and Duxford alongside hundreds of smaller gatherings around the UK.

Later in the afternoon, veterans Harry Read, 95, and John Hutton, 94, will parachute into Normandy in honour of comrades they lost when they first made the descent 75 years ago.

Alongside around 280 paratroopers they will take part in the descent onto fields at Sannerville - the drop zone for the 8th Midlands Parachute Battalion during D-Day.

Mr Read, a 20-year-old wireless operator with the Royal Signals, said: “I will enjoy the jump. It might be a little bit tricky, but I’m willing to have a go.

“But also in my heart I will be thinking of my mates. I have lived one of the most fulfilled lives that it’s possible for a person to live and they haven’t.”

Mr Hutton - known by his friends as Jock - was 19 when he served in the 13th Lancashire Parachute Battalion. The experienced parachutist is not at all fazed by the prospect and said there was “nothing strange” about the task.

That evening a vigil and silent march will take place at Pegasus Bridge which was the scene of a 15-minute skirmish to take hold of the pathways over the Caen Canal and River Orne. This was the first British objective to be achieved on D-Day.

On Thursday, a service of remembrance takes place at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Theresa May will make one of her final official appearances as the British Prime Minister during the D-Day commemoration events.

She will begin her tour on Thursday morning at an inauguration ceremony which will see a sculpture unveiled at the British Normandy Memorial site overlooking Gold beach which is being built to honour those who died during the Battle of Normandy between the D-Day landings and August 31 1944.

Then she will join the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall for a service of remembrance at Bayeux Cathedral.

This is followed by a second service at the the Bayeux War Cemetery - the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission site of the Second World War in France.