A war hero who fought on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day joined world leaders and royalty to mark the 75th anniversary of the historic event.
Stanley Northeast, 98, of Beaconsfield Road, Wick, was one of only 300 veterans invited to attend the event on Southsea Common in Portsmouth on June 5.
The long list of dignitaries included the Queen, US president Donald Trump, German chancellor Angela Merkel and prime minister Theresa May.
Speaking after the event, Stanley described it as ‘a truly first-class day rekindling a lot of old memories and reuniting a true band of comrades’.
He said: “It was good to be able to exchange those memories with other D-Day veterans. It’s the first time many of us have been able to get together like this since, and we spent a long time chatting and laughing and also remembering all those poor comrades who didn’t make it and we had to leave on the beaches.”
He said that the day itself ‘was a real military operation’, with an early start to get to the outskirts of Portsmouth, where they were security checked and then ‘bussed into a fortress they had created on Southsea Common for the day’. As well as the ceremony itself and a Red Arrows flypast, Stanley said it was also ‘a great experience to rub shoulders with some of the VIPs’.
He said: “I met and chatted to Prince Charles, who thanked me from the Queen for the part I played in D-Day. I also had a long interesting chat with Jeremy Corbyn and Air Chief Marshall of the RAF Sir Stephen Hillier.”
Another highlight was getting a kiss from BAFTA award-winner Sheridan Smith, who sang the Vera Lynn songbook during the commemorations.
He said: “To top it off, as the coaches took us back through Portsmouth there were crowds of people in the streets cheering, clapping and calling us heroes. But the real heroes are the poor souls that didn’t come back.”
Mike, Stanley’s son who accompanied him to the event, said that the day was ‘often very emotional and very humbling’. He added: “Listening to their stories made it even more important that mine and future generations should never forget the extreme acts of courage and bravery shown by these veterans, because what they did started the end of WW2 and the peace in Europe that we have all been privileged to live under.”
Mr Northeast joined the Royal Air Force and trained as an electrician after receiving his call up papers.
Speaking at the time of getting his Legion D’Honneur medal in 2016, he described his experience of D-Day landings. He said: “We didn’t know what was going to happen next until the commanding officer gave the okay to fire, and the guns started on the warships. We had to come from behind in our landing craft and go towards the beach, and we were thinking: who is going to die next?”
He added: “As the front of the landing craft went down we just turned and wished each other good luck before we advanced through a sea red from the blood of our boys. Scared? I was petrified.”
This came as a Second World War veteran from Littlehampton also attended the D-Day service in France.
Denis Hosgood, 93, from The Winter Knoll, went to a ceremony at the Bayeux War Cemetery on Thursday and laid a wreath at the cenotaph.
He said: “Naturally, my thoughts went back to the lads we left behind. That is what it is all about really; paying homage to those we lost.”
The great-grandfather joined the Army aged 17, in 1943, having already served as part of the Home Guard, and was sent over to Europe in August 1944.
He fought the Nazis in France, Holland and Belgium. One of his saddest memories was of his platoon commander Captain Merchant, who received a message from his wife that she had given birth to twins just weeks before he was killed in battle.
In February 1945, twenty miles into Germany, Denis was wounded by a piece of shrapnel hitting his face and was evacuated from the front.