Today is D Day. We look back on a memorable VVIP voyage and look forward to carrying veterans home later this week

6th June 2024
  • Mont St Michel departing Portsmouth with veterans - image Tony Brown
  • Commander Glenn Higson and Commodore John Voyce Naval Base Commander share moments with veterans on board - image Jess Breheret
  • Wreath laying at sea
  • Water cannon salute - image Tony Brown
  • Our VVIPs - image Brittany Ferries
  • Saluting sailors on the HMS Prince of Wales
  • Jedburgh Pipe Band
  • Wreath laying ceremony - image Jess Breheret

4 June 2024: The veterans voyage with Brittany Ferries

Brittany Ferries’ president Jean-Marc Roué hosted 31 D Day veterans and their carers on board Mont St Michel on the Tuesday 4 June 08:00 departure from Portsmouth. They were headed to D-Day commemorations in Normandie, and specifically to Sword Beach, which borders our port in Ouistreham.  Ahead, of course, of D Day 80 6 June 2024.

In an address to these brave men, Jean-Marc saluted their courage and service. He told them: “we are at your service. As you were at ours 80 years ago,” just ahead of a wreath laying ceremony.

The day started in Portsmouth at around 06:00. Veterans, carers and media arrived en masse. The most important passengers were of course the veterans. Teams fast-tracked onto the ship and straight to Mont St Michel’s Les Romatiques restaurant, which served as a luxurious, yet quiet and reflect place, for these VVIPs and their carers throughout the voyage.

In total around 100 media arrived too, including TV crews from around the world. After the bluster of their arrival and filming on the quayside for breakfast BBC and ITV programmes, Captain Kristell Kérourédan eased Mont St Michel away from her berth. The emotive pipes played by the Jedburgh Pipe Band serenaded the ship as she slowly picked up speed. Veterans took to the deck to wave at crew of HMS Prince of Wales who had gathered on deck of the vast aircraft carrier to salute as the ferry sailed past.

Leaving Portsmouth Harbour, passengers and cheering onlookers in Portsmouth were treated to a flotilla of Royal Navy Ships and a fly-past of a Royal Air Force A400.

The voyage across the Channel was smooth and (mainly) sunny. Members of the Royal British Legion band played a fantastic set in the bar on board for all passengers. Then it was time for the veterans lunch, and a menu carefully prepared and delivered with pride by Brittany Ferries crew, serving these wonderful gentlemen.

The emotional part of the day came after lunch. After Jean-Marc’s speech – and around an hour from the coast of France – the captain slowed the ship to allow a wreath laying ceremony (organised by the Spirit of Normandy trust for veterans every year). Jean-Marc and representatives from the Royal Navy saluted, while the wreath descended to the sea. And tears were shed by all.

Arriving in Ouistreham, veterans were once again given VIP treatment. A pipe band welcomed the ship to her berth. The majority of veterans were whisked through the port and straight to their hotels. Some however, were taken to a ceremony next the ship, attended by key French stakeholders and media.

A flame of commemoration had been carried by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and displayed throughout the crossing. At the ceremony it was presented by a veteran to a young person, to symbolise the passing of the memory from the elder generation to a new generation who will carry their memories forward. The flame will go on to be displayed at the Bayeux War Cemetery today.

This crossing was the most significant in terms of focus and significance.. But other crews and ships were involved in the transport of veterans and beautiful historic vehicles (and Spitfires!).The Tuesday afternoon sailing of Normandie for example (leaving 14:45) carried a contingent of veterans with the London Veteran Taxi Charity. Meanwhile groups of American veterans have been sailing on ships to Cherbourg, the destination closest to American beaches, Utah and Omaha.

Today is D Day and horns will be sounded and ships “dressed all over” (le grand pavois) with flags. The most important focus for this week has been the veterans. Thanks to some excellent teamwork, they were treated as they should have been: with great pride, care and love. We look forward to carrying them back to the UK at the end of commemorations in France.