The Royal British Legion’s head of travel said last week’s sailing for 255 D-Day veterans was “an exceptional project and much larger than any we have organised before”.
Nichola Rowlands was part of a team at the Armed Forces charity which coordinated the seven-day voyage of remembrance on Fred Olsen Cruise Lines’ Boudicca, to mark the D-Day landings 75 years ago.
“We have been working on this project for about a year,” she said.
“We took 255 veterans and their carers on an amazing trip to commemorate those who served at Normandy 75 years ago.”
When she watched the veterans board Boudicca at Dover on June 2, she said it was “overwhelming”.
“All of these veterans are now well into their 90s and are often living alone, or may be lonely, so to see them all come together and meet people who share their same experiences was truly remarkable,” said Rowlands.
“It was an absolute honour and pleasure to sail and meet so many veterans.
“They were very pleased to be part of such an event, and honoured that the D-Day veterans were being noted for what they had achieved, and pleased that the fallen were a major part of the commemorations.”
The voyage was funded by the Treasury, from London inter-bank lending rate (Libor) fine.
The charity’s PR team raised awareness of the plans to make sure as many veterans as possible signed up for the voyage, and other staff visited each veteran to ensure they were well enough to join the ship.
After setting sail from Dover, the veterans visited Dunkirk and Poole before arriving in Portsmouth for the national commemorative service attended by the Queen and US president Donald Trump.
It carried on to Le Havre and then had to head back to Dover instead of Portsmouth because of bad weather – so the ship missed its planned home-coming ceremony.
Ipswich-based Arena Travel – the travel operator partner for the Royal British Legion’s Remembrance Travel – helped with the itinerary, ticketing and transport for veterans.
Each veteran travelled to the port by coaches which departed from points across the country, along with staff from Arena Travel.
Rowlands has organised tours of remembrance for Royal British Legion events for the past nine years and the charity regularly takes smaller groups of veterans back to Normandy, as well as other battlefield sites such as Monte Cassino, El Alamein and Arnhem for tours of remembrance.
Now the voyage is over, Rowlands said she and her colleagues are “exhausted” but “very proud to have created such a tour for our heroes of Normandy”.
And planning will start soon for events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 2020.