Two Worcestershire veterans have returned from a heroes’ welcome in Normandy where they landed as young men of war in 1944

South Worcestershire’s D-Day survivors, 98-year-old Harold Wilson of Pershore and 94-year-old Bill Brotherton from Offenham have returned home inspired from their experience during Normandy’s 75th anniversary commemorations.

Bill, a former Royal Marine coxswain and Harold, who fought in the Fife and Forfars Regiment as a young tank driver, were part of a 200-strong group of D-Day survivors who returned to their old battlefields in Northern France thanks to the Royal British Legion.

Travelling aboard MV Boudicca, a luxury cruise ship which had been specially chartered for the occasion, the elderly gentlemen enjoyed a whirlwind tour which included a visit to Gold Beach where they landed as young men of war in June 1944.

“It has been a fabulous trip,” Harold says from his home of the past 14 years at Roland Rutter Court, Newlands. “To think Bill and I met both HRH Prince Charles and PM Theresa May has been a highlight,” he continues.

We met lots of new friends among old comrades who landed on the beaches. We feel so lucky be alive to enjoy the 75th celebrations. Well-wishers turned out at every port to cheer us,” Harold smiles.

Not having made each other’s acquaintance prior to the trip, Harold and Bill were delighted to meet each other, especially given the fact that they shared the experience of both landing at the same Normandy Beach.

“They were inseparable,” says Bill’s daughter, Julie Brotherton who made the special trip with her father. “It was only Dad’s third time returning to Normandy and it was very special to see him treated like a VIP,” she says.

“But when you think that we enjoyed a week’s cruise, I have come down to Earth with a big bump this past fortnight,” she chuckles.

Bill was just 17 when he and 16 mates from Evesham travelled to Worcester to enlist in HM Armed Forces. He became a coxswain on Landing Craft (LAC) 979. His crew of four made their first journey to the beaches at 8am on D-Day morning, ferrying their precious cargo of British soldiers.

“I can still picture it now,” he recalls. “Chaps lain all over the beach, bursts of machine gun fire which came at us from all directions.”

“I was very lucky,” he says with emotion. “Out of our flotilla of 12 landing crafts, only five returned to ship.”

Julie, listening wide-eyed, is a faithful custodian of her dad’s memories.

“Dad watched a nearby destroyer get torpedoed and literally split in half. I can’t imagine what that must have been like to have been amid the invasion,” she says.

During the special tour, Julie got a taste of what life was like aboard her dad’s old vessel when the Royal Marines invited Bill and her for a trip aboard a modern day Landing Craft.

“We clambered in and off we went like the wind!” Julie laughs. “Given we had elderly men on board, I thought we were going for a gentle pootle around the harbour...”

I have never experienced such speed in my life. I am not sure Dad was ready for it either given he was apparently used to steering his vessel at a more leisurely 10 knots...”

There was just one part of their trip that didn’t go to plan. “Our journey home was delayed due to bad weather,” Bill tells me. “It was just like 75 years ago when D-Day was postponed 24-hours – and I did have a chuckle to myself. Now, what are the chances of that?”

For Harold, and his faithful carer Tracey Beard, also from Pershore, the trip was bittersweet. Harold’s wife Jean, a former resident of Heathlands, on Station Road, died last month.

“Jean, my wife of 76 years, was very much in my thoughts,” Harold explains. “We married on 7 November 1942 when the country faced a very uncertain future as we fought off Nazi Germany and its Allies.”

“Jean then spent five years alone while I was away fighting, including a year with our first-born Pamela,” Harold explains before continuing. “But she was a thorough and determined character, working as an ARP [Air Raid Precautions] telephonist and we were reunited after I was demobbed in April 1947.”

The trip has put Yorkshire-born Harold in reflective mood. “The good Lord has been very kind to us that we have seen out the end of our days together in such a lovely place as Pershore and which is close to our second daughter, Judith, who lives in Droitwich. It is in times like this we must be thankful for what we have.”