1 Jun 2014

WWII vets to head to commemorations

1:30 pm on 1 June 2014

A group of World War II veterans are due to leave Auckland for the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations in Normandy, France.

Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches on D-Day.

Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches on D-Day. Photo: AFP

D-Day on 6 June, 1944, marked a turning point when allied forces regained a foothold in France and started to liberate mainland Europe from Nazi occupation.

New Zealand's sailors were on the flotilla of ships ferrying more than 130,000 men, while its airmen flew thousands of paratroopers and crewed bomber and fighter planes.

The oldest of the nine veterans, 97-year-old Neil Harton, patrolled the French coast for years but never landed. He commanded the motor torpedo boat in the flotilla leading the invasion.

"It was eerie, it was night, peaceful, and when the dawn broke you looked back and saw this huge armada of ships following us in towards the shore," Mr Harton said.

He said he was keen to set foot on French soil for the first time but his first thoughts were for the young men who did not return, he said.

"The New Zealanders that left these shores, my mates, some of them didn't come back. Those are the people that I'm going to represent."

Penwill Moore said he looked forward to returning to Juno Beach, where he landed with the HMS Sea Serpent.

"The noise was tremendous, absolutely incredible, the noise of bombardments and planes dropping the bombs and the ships," Mr Moore said.

Contingent commander Colonel Angela Fitzsimons said the veterans would attend international ceremonies and visit D-Day landing beaches.

"This is an opportunity for them to get together with some of their old shipmates from the other countries, because they were all embedded in either the Royal Air Force for the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy," Colonel Fitzsimons said.

This was the last government-funded group of veterans attending 70th anniversary commemorations, she said.

The veterans are flying to Perth on their first leg, instead of Darwin, because of the disruption caused by a volcanic eruption in Indonesia.