Tearful D-Day veterans describe 'mixed feelings' as they set sail for France ahead of 80th anniversary

D-Day veterans have told of having "mixed feelings" as they left for Normandy in France for the 80th anniversary commemorations.

There were cheers for those on board Brittany Ferries ship Mont St Michel as it set sail from Portsmouth on Tuesday morning.

Many on board were in good spirits, some were emotional and had tears in their eyes.

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Arnie Salter, from Bedworth in Warwickshire, helped ferry hundreds of troops across to the Normandy beaches during D-Day.

He said: "I've got a lot of mixed feelings, I'm glad to go, it brings back memories, but I'm also sad, we lost a hell of a lot of good men."

The 98-year-old added: "The flypast was lovely and the pipers were wonderful."

Jack Mortimer, 100, from Leeds, who landed on Sword Beach, said: "When I go back there, I cry. I saw bodies being brought off that beach."

Ken Hay, 98, was captured as a prisoner of war just weeks after D-Day.

He said: "It's a very special day, we received a great send-off.

"To go back to France is important, to see the cemeteries, the monuments, it's always good to see."

John Dennett, 99, from Wallasey, Merseyside, said: "At my age now, I'm a bit more expecting it to be emotional... we must always remember them."

As the ferry headed out into The Solent, a strait between the mainland and the Isle of Wight, an RAF A400 aircraft flew past to honour the veterans while the Jedburgh Pipe Band performed.

The ship was accompanied by Royal Navy patrol vessels Trumpeter, Medusa and Basher as well as HMS Cattistock and the Training Ship Royalist, with tugs spraying water as it left Portsmouth Harbour for its journey to Caen in France.

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Crowds waving union flags and D-Day flags gathered on the Round Tower and harbour walls in Old Portsmouth and cheered and clapped.

The veterans and their families waved back from the ferry.

One of the many gathered to wave the veterans off was Janet Welling, 71, from Portsmouth.

She said: "I came here to remember the day and to reminisce. It shouldn't be forgotten, what those poor lads went through, leaving here and embarking on France, and what they put themselves through. They said they weren't scared - they must have been petrified."

Maisie Brown, 20, also from Portsmouth, said: "I came down with my nan to celebrate D-Day and that it should always be remembered. Being the younger generation, and my dad and my uncles being in the Navy, I feel it's always important to remember and never to forget."

Around 156,000 Allied troops landed on five beaches along the Normandy coast in northern France on 6 June 1944, while 24,000 troops were dropped into the battle from the air.

It was the largest amphibious invasion ever executed, and along with the associated airborne operations, signalled the beginning of the end of the Second World War.

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The Royal British Legion (RBL) is escorting 22 D-Day veterans to Normandy, compared with 255 who travelled to commemorate the 75th anniversary in 2019. Another 10 are travelling with the Spirit of Normandy Trust.

Two veterans on board the ferry laid a wreath at sea.

At the stern of the ship, Harry Birdsall, 98, from Wakefield, and 99-year-old Alec Penstone carried the wreath together before saluting to the Last Post.

All the veterans sang Land Of Hope And Glory before they were cheered by the other passengers.

Mark Atkinson, the RBL's director general, described it as a "momentous occasion".

He said: "The veterans are remarkably sprightly, they're up and about and engaged. There were a lot of mixed emotions as you'd imagine but a lot of people are really excited to be going back.

"It's an opportunity for them to pay their respects and remember the fallen."