D-Day vet made it, but only just

This Is Wiltshire: Veteran Harry Prescott, who  returned to Normandy last week Veteran Harry Prescott, who returned to Normandy last week

D-Day veteran Harry Prescott was finally able to visit the beaches of Normandy after securing a British passport at the age of 92.

Harry, a Canadian born to English parents, nearly sacrificed himself to the war effort as a British marine having moved back from Canada to Sunderland at the age of four.

He had never held a British passport until his return for the 70th anniversary of D-Day last week, where he was able to meet the Queen as a true Englishman.

Two attempts over the years to secure himself a British passport had failed as authorities were unable to ascertain his father’s nationality.

Thanks to support from MP Robert Buckland, he was eventually awarded a UK passport just in time to make his French pilgrimage and receive a medal from the mayor of Port-en Bessin.

“I never thought I would be back for the 70th anniversary,” said Harry, who moved to Swindon 35 years ago and now lives in Freshbrook.

“When I went back last week it all came flooding back.

“I remember D-Day and the war very well. We went there to see the graves and put down wreaths and I was at the celebration with the Queen.

“I got my sixth medal from the mayor of Port-en-Bessin. A man on the same craft as me was there.

“I didn’t recognise him at first but he recognised me. It was amazing. It really was out of this world.”

Harry was a 21 year-old Royal Marine when he set off with his regiment to free occupied France from the Nazis on June 6, 1944.

However, he never arrived as his transport was bombed or hit a mine – to this day, he is uncertain what happened.

Fortunately, and unlike most of his comrades, he escaped unscathed. Seven days later he joined the most eastern flank in the British position near Caen.

From there he pushed towards Ostend and fought alongside Allied armies in some of the worst military battles waged during the war, including an operation to recapture the Dutch island of Walcheren at the approach to the port of Antwerp.

Last week, he retraced his steps to Gold Beach and was able to complete the journey he began seven decades previously by finally reaching Port-en-Bessin, the very first port liberated during the debarquement by those who made it to shore.

“We were sunk quite a few miles from the beach and we never made it,” he said.

“Some people said it was a shell but I personally think it was a mine. It happened so quickly. We lost 20 people. I was lucky I only got a few scratches. Other crafts came to pick up survivors and took us back to the ship. I came back seven days later. I was scared of going back, having been sunk and losing people.

“You do your training but when you get bombed on your first day and lose 20 people you think ‘It’s the real thing; it’s not training anymore’.

“We pushed through France and captured prisoners. We went to Holland where we landed in Westkapelle (on Walcheren) and it took us three days to recapture it.

“When the war was over in Europe, we were supposed to go to Japan but when the Americans dropped the atomic bomb I was given the opportunity to go to Hong Kong or demobilise, so I demobilised.”

He added: “For me being part of D-day was an honour. I joined the marines in 1943 and volunteered with the commandos. Wherever we went people were welcoming us and thanking us for liberating them. I just think I’ve done my part.”

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