Eastbourne veterans were among the thousands of people who gathered on Beachy Head to see the D-Day flypast on Wednesday (June 5).
More than 25 vintage Second World War planes – including Dakotas and Spitfires – appeared across the skyline shortly after 5pm, a little later than scheduled after taking off from Duxford airfield in Cambridgeshire for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
The Herald was there to soak up the poignant atmosphere and spoke to three extraordinary veterans.
Alfred Wenham, 96, was in the Royal Navy, serving in Sicily and around Southern Italy before returning to Britain for D-Day. He said, “I was on a tank landing craft. It was pretty awful. I made 19 trips to the beaches.”
Born in Polegate, Alfred now lives in Westham. He said, “It’s an honour to be here, especially with Alf. I’m glad I have come. I keep getting flashbacks. Where’s the time gone?”
Alfred ‘Alf’ Armstrong, 97, served in the merchant navy, he said, “I was blown up on two different ships by two different mines.”
On D-Day, he said, “The sky was black with planes.” He was married to his childhood sweetheart Patricia for 69 years. He recalled playing poker with American troops in the officers’ mess. He now lives in Langney.
And Eric Deace, 94, was in the Royal Navy serving alongside the US Pacific Fleet in Japan.
He said, “We did what we had to do. I was only a lad in my early 20s. We supported the landings of the American boys on the beaches. There was a lot of camaraderie. When it ended, I remember saying ‘it’s over, dad’. The world’s changed such a lot.” He now lives in Meads.
Thousands of people parked at Beachy Head, Butts Brow and along the seafront to watch the historic flypast as the planes headed out towards the Channel for Normandy.
The Daks Over Normandy route ran from Duxford and flew over Colchester, Southend, and Maidstone. Then the fleet of aircraft passed over Eastbourne before heading out across the English Channel for Normandy.
The flight was also carrying a contingent of 300 parachutists who will come down on the Drop Zone at Ranville in the same fields where British parachute and glider-borne troops of the 6th Airborne Division landed on the night and day of June 6.
The commemorative flight is unlikely to ever be repeated on this scale.