Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is proud to have played its part in hosting 250 D-Day veterans – plus their carers and companions – on a poignant pilgrimage around the UK and Normandy, France, on The Royal British Legion’s ‘D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance’ aboard Boudicca, from 2nd to 9th June 2019.
Fred. Olsen’s Boudicca – resplendent in The Royal British Legion’s recognisable red poppy décor – set sail from Dover on 2nd June 2019, taking the veterans to Dunkirk, Poole, Portsmouth and Le Havre, where they attended a series of commemorative events to mark the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings on 6th June 1944.
Suffolk-based travel specialists, Arena Travel, partnered with The Royal British Legion on the historic Voyage – with whom they have been an official travel partner since 2013 – and contacted local Suffolk cruise line Fred. Olsen, due to the number of veterans to be transported and the high costs and lack of availability of hotels in and around Normandy.
The ‘D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance’ was one of the most poignant and moving journeys that Fred. Olsen’s Boudicca has ever undertaken. In Dover, veterans received a very special send-off, with the ‘40s-themed ‘Swingtime Sweethearts’ performing in the Cruise Terminal, which was decked out with flags and bunting, together with a display of military vehicles greeting veterans as they arrived. Military re-enactors also gave a flavour of the era, and the talented Dover Sea Cadets marched and performed a number of evocative wartime songs.
As the ship sailed out of Dover, veterans received a surprise performance by superstar Sir Rod Stewart – currently on tour around the UK – who sang his iconic seafaring anthem, ‘Sailing’, out on deck. Accompanied by his wife Lady Penny Lancaster – taking exclusive photographs for Hello! magazine – Sir Rod and Lady Penny spent a great deal of time chatting with veterans and learning their stories, as they had for the 70th D-Day anniversary, five years ago.
Following a call at Dunkirk, France – which played an important role during the war – Boudicca continued to Poole, where it became the largest ship ever to call at the Port, on its maiden call. Along the quayside, the Ministry of Defence hosted a series of military-themed events, entertainment and activities, and 40 Commando Royal Marines came on board to display their weaponry to veterans.
The following day, veterans attended the national commemorative events in Portsmouth, where many were able to meet the current Heads of State of the nations that participated in the D-Day operation. President Trump, President Macron, Prince Charles, along with many other leaders, joined the veterans for tea after the official event, and a number of veterans got to meet and shake hands with Prime Minister Theresa May. A 30-minute fly-past and aerial display by the famous RAF Red Arrows followed the event.
Upon departure from Portsmouth, Boudicca was escorted by a Royal Navy frigate, along with four smaller Navy vessels, into the Solent, where a flotilla of Royal Navy vessels and personnel were waiting to salute the ship – including the Navy’s newest flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, where Prime Minister Theresa May joined them out on deck. The city of Portsmouth also paid its own tribute, waving off the veterans on their way to France with ‘THANK YOU’ spelt out in giant letters on the shore as Boudicca sailed past.
Boudicca then stood off the coast of Ventnor, Isle of Wight before sunset – accompanied by a Royal Navy escort warship – for a sombre ‘Moment of Reflection’ on deck, led by The Royal British Legion’s National President, Lt General James Bashall CB, CBE, before the ship headed for Normandy.
The following day, Boudicca arrived in the French port of La Havre, from where a convoy of 14 coaches, escorted under VIP blue lights by the French Gendarmerie, took the veterans to the Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, where they were able to pay tribute to the soldiers who fought and died during the invasion of Normandy and the subsequent advance into France. Here, the Prime Minister, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were able to meet and talk to the veterans personally.
After an overnight stay in Le Havre, veterans had the opportunity to visit the ‘Operation Overlord’ beaches, ‘Sword’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Juno’, as well as Pegasus Bridge, the British Normandy Memorial and the Arromanches Military Museum. Back on board Boudicca, veterans were entertained by the impressive ’40s-themed ‘D-Day Darlings’, runners-up in ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.
A sumptuous Gala Dinner on the final evening, en route to Dover, was the culmination of this commemorative sailing, with a rousing performance by Captain David Cole OBE and The Central Band of The Royal British Legion, and a closing finale by the ‘D-Day Darlings’ and Boudicca Show Company.
During the Voyage, veterans and their companions were treated to a wide range of entertainment on board, from celebrity acts, such as Lance Corporal Richard Jones, the only magician to ever win ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, and Peter Snow, renowned historian, as The Royal British Legion’s Guest Speaker. His son, fellow historian Dan Snow, also broadcast live from Boudicca in Portsmouth, as anchor for ‘The One Show’.
The Royal British Legion’s ‘D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance’ was offered free of charge to D-Day veterans and their companions, funded by the UK Government’s LIBOR grant, in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence.