UK D-Day veteran says on 80th anniversary: ‘We were making history’

By Thomson Reuters Jun 3, 2024 | 3:14 AM

By Hannah Ellison

LONDON (Reuters) – Royal Navy veteran Fred Ayton was told he was “making history” when he set off across the English Channel 80 years ago on the eve of D-Day, a momentous point in the fight against Nazi Germany for someone who was “only a kid”.

Ayton was an 18-year-old able seaman torpedoman on HMS Sweetbriar, a corvette protecting Allied vessels from enemy submarines on the journey to the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944.

“I was still only a kid really,” the 98-year-old said, but he knew he was doing the right thing.

“And I must say it made a man of me,” he told Reuters.

Ayton will be one of about 200 veterans at commemorations in France on Thursday.

King Charles, Queen Camilla and Prince William will travel to Normandy after they attend Britain’s national commemoration in Portsmouth, on the English south coast, on Wednesday.

U.S. President Biden, who will be on state visit to France, will join the ceremonies alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. The leaders of Britain, Canada and Germany will also attend.

More than 150,000 service personnel from the United States, Britain, Canada and other Allied nations took part in the landings on D-Day, the start of an invasion which led to the liberation of France and victory on the Western Front.

Ayton recalled how everybody had to leave their stations on the ship to hear the captain relay a message from the Lord of the Admiralty, saying they “would be making history” by taking part in the biggest ever seabourne invasion.

“It was very well planned and the enemy had no idea that we were going to do it,” he said in his home in north London, where a model of his ship is displayed.

Ayton said he was attending the event for his late son. “He was the one who was so proud of me,” he said.

(Reporting by Hannah Ellison and Hannah McKay, Writing by Paul Sandle)