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D-Day, June 6 1944, Operation Neptune, D Day, Normandy, Normandy Landings, Overlord, shipping, beach
Veterans and Royal Navy service personnel are seen here at the D-Day Story Museum in Portsmouth
Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Gordon Messenger, seen here at the D-Day Story Museum

Normandy return for D-Day heroes

Published: 23 Jan 2019

Portsmouth and the sands of Normandy will become the focal point of world events for what is likely to be the last major commemoration of the D-Day landings featuring the men who were there.

Up to 300 veterans have been invited to join a cruise ship for a unique ‘return to Normandy’ experience, one of the key events in this summer’s anniversary announced by Vice Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Gordon Messenger.

The senior Royal Marine was joined by serving personnel from the three Forces, plus veterans, in Portsmouth’s D-Day Story Museum to reveal some of the ways Britain will commemorate Operation Overlord this June.

Portsmouth was the hub for the liberation operation. Beyond the obvious naval participation in 1944, Southwick House just north of the city served as the headquarters of Supreme Commander General Dwight Eisenhower.

D-Day is an event which changed history and shaped modern Europe, but it is made up of thousands upon thousands of human stories, stories of bravery, determination and overcoming adversity.

General Sir Gordon Messenger

So the city will host the UK’s national event on June 5 - amid five days of local commemorations by the Solent.

The main event will include a military parade along the seafront, music from military bands, readings by VIPs and a flypast featuring period aircraft. Other features will include a Royal Collection Trust exhibition, screenings to show the Normandy Commemorations live and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

The first Portsmouth Revival festival - celebrating the food, music, dancing and vehicles of the era- will also be held, with events concluding with a ‘Sunset Concert for Heroes’ featuring acts include the Military Wives Choir and the D-Day Darlings.

Before sunset on June 5, the MV Boudicca will leave Portsmouth bound for Normandy carrying 300 veterans of the Great Crusade, escorted, as they were in 1944, by the Royal Navy.

The vessel has been specially-chartered ship using cash from The Royal British Legion and a LIBOR grant from the Treasury.

The ship will accommodate veterans for the duration of their visit to Normandy - at no cost to the men of 1944.

“They are the real VIPs at this year’s events,” General Messenger said. “D-Day is an event which changed history and shaped modern Europe, but it is made up of thousands upon thousands of human stories, stories of bravery, determination and overcoming adversity.

“The 75th anniversary is going to be a fabulous event. Portsmouth was at the heart of the effort so it’s fitting that it will be the focal point of the British element of commemorations.”

Across the Channel, anniversary events will include an inauguration at the site of the Normandy Memorial Trust’s British Normandy Memorial and services of thanksgiving at Bayeux Cathedral and Bayeux Cemetery before concluding with an evening of music and entertainment beside the beaches in Arromanches - the site of Gold Beach in June 1944.

Around 2,000 current serving personnel will be taking part in events in the UK and France, and be on hand to offer veterans support.

Veterans interested in travelling on the Boudicca can download an application form from The Royal British Legion, which needs to be completed and returned by Monday 4 February. Each veteran will be entitled to travel with one guest or carer.

The RBL will arrange the full return trip from successful applicants’ homes to the ship and back at no cost to them.


And a few more details direct from the RBL:

You might be aware that in response to a reported shortage of appropriate accommodation in Normandy over the period of the D-Day 75 commemorations, The Royal British Legion recently announced that they have chartered a ship via our travel provider Arena Travel, the MV Boudicca, to provide a fully funded tour for 300 Normandy Veterans; each with one carer. 

We are respectfully asking ex-Service Associations to help us communicate this opportunity to their respective memberships.  Our aim is not to compete with previously arranged travel plans but rather to ensure that every Normandy Veteran is aware of the opportunity to utilise the Legion’s fully-funded travel and accommodation option that includes travel insurance. Ideally, we seek to provide every Normandy Veteran with the opportunity to travel and share time with erstwhile comrades whilst attending major commemorative events marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day on both sides of The Channel. 

A comprehensive transport plan has been designed offering the collection of individuals from their respective homes to the Port of Dover and subsequent return at the completion of the tour.  Following embarkation in Dover on Sunday 2 June 2019, the MV Boudicca will set sail on the itinerary outlined below, returning to Dover on Sunday 9 June 2019. A programme of activities specific to the Normandy Veterans has been designed that includes attendance at national level commemorative events, visits, demonstrations at-sea by the Royal Navy as well as historical briefings.  

There are significant on-board medical facilities and the Legion will provide a cadre of additional, qualified care staff to support those travelling with us.  The vessel’s itinerary allows sufficient time for the on-board veterans to take full advantage of what we hope will be a memorable experience for each of them and provide sufficient time for rest and times for reflection. 

Below is the current outline itinerary for the MV Boudicca. This is subject to change. 

Day 1, Sunday 2 June 2019

  • Embarkation 
  • Depart Dover 

Day 2, Monday 3 June 2019

  • At sea familiarisation and safety briefings.
  • Historical lectures. 

Day 3, Tuesday 4 June 2019

  • Arrive in Poole Harbour for RN/RM displays & briefings. 

Day 4, Wednesday 5 June 2019

  • National Commemorative Event on Southsea Common marking the assembly & embarkation of the Allied D-Day invasion force. 

Day 5, Thursday 6 June 2019

  • Major national events at Bayeux Cathedral & the nearby CWGC cemetery.
  • Major Normandy Veteran Reception. 

Day 6, Friday 7 June 2019

  • Coach visits to the Op OVERLORD beaches, SWORD & GOLD as well as the British Normandy Memorial and the Arromanches Military Museum.
  • Gala dinner on-board ship. 

Day 7, Saturday 8 June 2019

  • Ship Homecoming into Portsmouth – 60k spectators anticipated. 

Day 8, Sunday 9 June 2019

  • Arrive in Dover
  • Disembark. 

To apply for a place on the MV Boudicca, we are inviting veterans or their carer to our website to download and print an eligibility form. 

They will need to complete the eligibility form in its entirety and return to Arena Travel by Monday 4 February 2019via post. They will also have access to our Frequently Asked Questions and the mobility policy for the ship from our website. 

In the event that applications exceed availability, priority will be given to veterans who participated in the D-Day Landings, with the remaining spaces allocated to Normandy Veterans via a ballot.  

If there is no oversubscription on the closing date, then all eligible applicants will be awarded a space on the ship. The results of the ballot will be confirmed by Arena Travel via post before the end of February 2019. A veteran who is unsuccessful in the ballot will have the option to remain on a reserve list in case a place subsequently becomes available.

Please direct any questions or concerns to Arena Travel on 01473 660800. 


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