One of the few surviving D-Day veterans, Navy Wings Supporter Rear Admiral John Roberts CB (100) was a 20 year old Sub Lieutenant at D-Day serving aboard the destroyer HMS Serapis at the front of the convoy arriving at Sword Beach.

The ship remained on station for 11 days firing on German positions along the coast.

John recalls his experience very vividly. “I remember it very well because my ship HMS Serapis escorted the minesweepers that had to sweep the English Channel to Normandy as the Germans had laid thousands of mines. There was a huge explosion as the destroyer next to us was torpedoed by a German e-boat. The destroyer was manned by Norwegian sailors who had escaped Norway and I felt dreadfully sad that a Norwegian ship should be the first one to be sunk.”

“We got closer, then at 7 o’clock we started bombarding the coast and there were cruisers doing the same and battleships further back. At the same time flying fortresses were going along the beach dropping thousand tonne bombs. It was the most amazing sight. It was so astonishing I have never forgotten it and I can never forget those poor Norwegian sailors who died.”

“I also felt sorry for the soldiers having to go ashore but the soldiers were quite pleased because it had been quite choppy crossing the Channel and a lot of them were seasick, so they were pleased to get on dry land again.”

“Remembering those who lost their lives has never been more important” continued John.

“We need to remember to help prevent future conflicts. What worries me enormously is that we are living in a very unstable world now. Having fought so hard, for our freedom and values, it is deeply concerning that the dangers we face now are every bit as terrifying as they were in 1944. I have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and its horrifying to think that when I am gone, they might be confronted with another war.”

John joined the Royal Navy at 13 and served until 1978, commanding HMS Ark Royal and reaching the rank of Rear Admiral and Head of the Fleet Air Arm as Flag Officer Naval Air Command. In February 2024, John’s role at D-Day was honoured along with 12 other surviving veterans who had their names added to the Normandy Memorial Wall at the D-Day Story Museum in Southsea, Hampshire.

John Roberts (100) arrived off Sword Beach during the height of the D-Day landings.

Another Navy Wings D-Day veteran, Tony Ditcham DSC, a remarkable 101, saw service in destroyers in all theatres of the war from Russian convoys, the Battle of the North Cape, including the sinking of the Scharnhorst, to the British Pacific Fleet and the campaigns against Japan. During D-Day his destroyer, HMS Scorpion was operating off the American beaches, where two of her sister ships were sunk with heavy loss of life.

Tony is one of the very few survivors of the Battle of the North Cape fought in the Arctic winter on 26 December 1943, where he had a grandstand view of the now all-but-forgotten showdown between the leviathan Scharnhorst and the British fleet, led by the flagship HMS Duke of York.  “I was a 21 year old Sub Lieutenant the night we sank Hitler’s monster battleship,” said Tony. “War touches us all, you never forget it. We did what we had to do. We stood tall in the hour of need.”

By the time Tony arrived at D-Day he had already been decorated with the DSC in the rank of Midshipman – a rare example of such an award to a Midshipman – for action against German S-Boats and aircraft in ‘Bomb Alley’ in the North Sea.

As our surviving veterans rapidly decline in numbers, the stories of the D-Day generation will be the last great eyewitness narratives of the Second World War.

Navy Wings Deputy Chief Executive, Cdr Jamie Dible said “My father Sub Lieutenant Michael Dible RNVR was embarked in the escort HMS Tracker during Operation Neptune. I remember him telling me that Portsmouth harbour was so full of ships in June 1944 that you could almost walk across the harbour from ship to ship.”

Navy Wings will be commemorating D-Day 80 with a special Supporters Day on 19 June 2024 and a flypast by Swordfish W5856 in D-Day invasion stripe markings.

Tony Ditcham DSC (101) operated off the American beaches in the destroyer HMS Scorpion.