Seventy -five years ago, Ernie Covill was a teenage soldier battling through waves full of bodies and facing a barrage of bullets and shells as one of the thousands of Allied servicemen who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
Last week, the Wyberton veteran was transported up that same beach at Arromanches in a restored DUKW amphibious vehicle when he was cheered by a crowd of thousands who had gathered on the beach.
Mr Covill says he felt like royalty – but for many of those gathered to pay tribute, he was part of a dwindling group to whom the whole world owes a debt that can never be repaid.
He was part of a group of four veterans on a tour organised by the Anglia Pilgrimage Fund which has been fundraising and making the trips to battlefields and cemeteries annually for around years.
Ernie was a driver in the Royal Army Service Corps and landed at Arromanches on D-Day +1 in June 1944. Last Thursday he was clapped and cheered and thanked by people from many countries.
The 94-year-old, who still lives independently, said on the day: “It’s marvellous - I felt like royalty.
“You can’t really put it into words what it means. It’s so nice to see all the people, especially the youngsters.”
The fund is run by Harold Payne, owner of The Anglia Motel at Fleet, who says Ernie was very proud to be taken out onto the water at Arromanches in the restored DUKW.
Mr Payne said: “I promised Ernie I would buy a DUKW for the 75th anniversary and rebuild it and take you back to where you were on D-Day. And I took him on the beach at D-Day and I took him right down the line in it in front of about 1,000 people and everyone was clapping him, and old Ernie stood there proud as anything.”
The small group then laid 1,000 roses in the sea to commemorate those who didn’t make it ashore in 1944.
Mr Payne also took young people from Lincolnshire and Norfolk on the tour and arranged for them to lay a single rose on all 6,661 graves in Ranville and Bayeux cemeteries.
He started the charity when he got chatting to a veteran of the D-Day landings who said he’d like to go back to visit his mates, but couldn’t afford it. Mr Payne started fund-raising to arrange a trip a couple of days later, and since then has raised more the £800,000 and taken over more than 2,000 veterans.
At 78, Mr Payne has his own memories of the war as a child: “I remember dog fights over Boston. I can remember planes crashing in the marshes. Things like that imprint in your mind,” he said.
“It was amazing this year. And those we take over, and the ones left behind, they certainly deserve this. Years ago, we used to take dozens back, but now we are down to four.
“It’s been a very humbling experience to do this. Its been an honour and a privilege. When I see the age groups of these thousands who died – 16,17, 18-year-olds – what a sacrifice they paid for our country. People don’t realise do they?”
The Anglia Motel is holding a fund-raising rally on June 29 and 30 to raise cash for veterans.