Page last updated at 11:48 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 12:48 UK

Normandy veterans' French return

The Normandy landings in 1944
The Normandy landings spearheaded the liberation campaign

Eleven Northern Ireland veterans of the 1944 Normandy landings are due to return to France.

They are doing so as part of the 65th anniversary of D-Day, which is being marked this weekend.

The veterans, aged between 83 and 90, are to revisit their old battlefields. Lurgan man Des Gregg was a junior officer during Operation Overlord.

"I'm going purely because I have quite a few friends who have been there for the past 65 years," he said.

His radio operator was fatally wounded as he stood beside him during the offensive.

"This is the last chance we really have of going in a group to remember them," he said.

"There's still some of my blood in Normandy , I was wounded in there, I had shrapnel in my back but I'm enjoying life still."

NI VETERANS RETURNING TO NORMANDY
William Cooke, 83, Telegraphist, Royal Navy
Henry Francis, 90, Corporal, Royal Army Service Corps
Thomas Fulton, 84, Marine, Royal Marines
Des Gregg, 89, Lieutenant, Durham Light Infantry
Neville Henshaw, 84, Sergeant, Royal Signals
Hamilton Lawrence, 85, Corporal, Royal Ulster Rifles
John Leishnan, 89, Sergeant, Royal Army Ordinance Corps
John May, 86, Portrush, Able Seaman, Royal Navy
Robert Steele, 87, Private, Royal Ulster Rifles
Raymond Stewart, 85, Leading Aircraftsman, RAF
George Thompson, 82, Telegraphist, Royal Navy

Henry Francis, 90, is returning to the beaches for the first time since driving a DUKW amphibious vehicle onshore.

"I felt that this is the last chance I'll get - I haven't been back to Normandy since we landed there, 60 odd years ago," he said.

"I have the memories of my old comrades, I know I won't be seeing them only their graves."

Prince Charles is also to attend D-Day commemorations in Normandy, having been invited by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

It is understood the prince will attend at least one main event alongside US President Barack Obama, Mr Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

They will gather at the Normandy American Cemetery, by Omaha Beach - code name for one of the main landing points of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France during WWII.

The White House had stepped into the row about why the Queen was not attending, after Buckingham Palace insisted she had not been invited.

There will also be a Royal British Legion Service of Remembrance at Bayeux Cathedral.



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