Former Spitfire pilots attend D-Day commemorations

7:39 pm on 6 June 2019

Two New Zealand spitfire pilots and a radar operator who took part in the Normandy beach landings were in the crowd today marking the 75th anniversary of the event.

A group of No 485 Squadron pilots in front of one of their aircraft at RAF Station Selsey, at the dawn of D Day.

A group of No 485 Squadron pilots in front of one of their aircraft at RAF Station Selsey, at the dawn of D Day. Photo: Photo / Air Force Museum of New Zealand Creative Commons

About 100 people and their families attended the ceremony at Pukeahu War Memorial Hall of Memories.

On 6 June 1944, about 153,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy in Northern France. The largest combined naval, air and land operation in history, it marked the beginning of the end for World War Two.

Among the troops was spitfire pilot Maurice Mayston. He flew more than 180 hours in Spitfires over occupied Europe and survived a crash landing only three months before D-Day.

On D-Day he was part of the victory, helping to destroy a Junkers 88 - a German Luftwaffe aircraft.

He said there was only one way to describe that historic event.

"Just awesome ... the only word I can think of is 'awesome'. It's something, that - it's a lifetime experience, you'll never have another one like it."

Mr Mayston does not talk about what he saw or felt during that mission, but said it was not something that ever left him.

"Those sort of memories will come to me when I'm not ready for them and they'll flash in my brain rather than in my sight or any other way. They'll be in here [my mind]... and I just make the best of what I get."

What he does remember is the camaraderie and friendships forged.

"I've still got that memory of the company we had together when we were together and I'm so glad I had that experience."

Another veteran, pilot Philip Stewart, made the visit today from Christchurch. He recalls what that day 75 years ago was like.

"The cloud was so low we couldn't do much so our brief was to go as low and as far in as we could and to destroy anything that was moving on the rail or on the road. So that was our role and that's what we did."

"I've been asked sometimes 'when you were shooting up a [vehicle carrying a lot of German soldiers] did you feel horrible?' well, no, because that's what we were there to do."

Mr Stewart along with another veteran, Roy Brookes, laid a wreath on behalf of all who fought.

Mr Brookes was a radar operator onboard the vessel Undaunted on D-Day.

Undaunted engaged in gunfire during the landings and became General Eisenhower's vessel when the ship he was on was damaged.

Chief of the Defence Force Air Marshall Kevin Short said ceremonies such as today's remained hugely relevant 75 years on.

"Because it's about people who are giving their lives to make us have the lifestyle we want, and it's not that long ago. I mean, my grandfather served in World War Two and unless we remember the sacrifices and the efforts I think we would move forward in the world thinking everything was fine.

"As you know, the world is not a peaceful place: there's always conflict and to live the way we do - the standards - takes sacrifice."

The Defence and Veterans Minister Ron Mark also addressed the crowd, thanking the veterans for what they had done, and reminding others to never forget it.