80 Years Later, D-Day Veterans Cross the Channel One More Time

A ferry carrying 40 veterans of the D-Day landings makes its way out into the Solent (UK MOD)

Published Jun 4, 2024 7:37 PM by The Maritime Executive

A group of D-Day veterans are re-enacting their famous Channel crossing in the run-up to the 80th anniversary celebration for the landings at Normandy, the heroic amphibious attack that turned the tide in the fight to halt Nazi Germany. As the youngest men who were there for the landings are now 98, this may be the last significant gathering of D-Day veterans before their actions pass out of living memory. 

40 personnel who played a part in World War II's most famous operation departed Portsmouth on Tuesday morning, bound for Mont St Michel aboard a special ferry sailing. The ferry crossing was escorted by a World War II motor gunboat, the launch HMS Medusa, and a Royal Air Force historic rescue boat. Bagpipers played on the top deck as the ferry sailed out of the harbor. 

Some of the men recounted their experiences of the day at an event before the crossing. For many, it was an emotional experience - both for the opportunity to commemorate that day one more time, and for the return of memories from the tough fight on the beach. 

"The sight was unbelievable and I knew there and then we were part of something big, you felt that nothing could happen to us," said John Dennett, an anti-aircraft gunner who had served in three amphibious operations before Normandy. "It was only later that you begin to realize how lucky you were – it could have been any one of us lost."

Frigate HMS St Albans is making the voyage too, and will be present as a guard ship for commemorative events at the British Normandy Memorial. HMS Cattistock, Trumpeter and Dasher are also crossing the Channel to Normandy, where they will join a commemoration of the capture of the Pegasus Bridge at Caen. 

French, British and American forces from all service branches are also holding commemorative events. Over the weekend, the 101st Airborne carried out a parachute drop over Normandy - using period-appropriate round parachutes and C-47 cargo aircraft. On Tuesday, two French landing craft carried out a rehearsal for a staged "assault" on the beach, which will be part of the main event. 

A full commemorative ceremony led by French President Emanuel Macron is scheduled for June 6 on Omaha Beach. US President Joe Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and European Council President Charles Michel will be in attendance. France has disinvited all representatives of the Russian government, given ongoing events in Ukraine. 

Full-scale commemorative events are a part of the effort France puts into maintaining the collective memory of the Second World War, according to historian Denis Peschanski.

"This is evident in the incredible number of local initiatives, particularly in schools, whether in Normandy or throughout France," Peschanki told France 24. "The issue of passing along this history to the next generation is well and truly assimilated. There's a real enthusiasm and it's not likely to fade.”