IT might be 75 years ago, but Normandy veteran Henry Hayes still remembers how it felt the day he arrived on French shores.

He was scared and they had a huge tank to land on the beach - he also had minimal training and, as with many of the soldiers arriving that day, was barely into adulthood.

Henry was 19 years old and this was his first experience of conflict.

Henry landed at Arromanches, 12km north-east of Bayeux, along with the independent 8th Armoured Brigade, with whom he was serving.

The village is in the heart of where the Normandy landings took place on June 6, 1944.

He recalls it was a frightening time.

He said: “We were in what is known as swimming tanks and getting them landed in the waves was a dreadful session, but we managed it. Then we swam in ourselves.

“You could say I was lucky I suppose but I was not fully competent, as they called it at the time, and had not been fully trained so I was kept back as a reserve.

“They kept me back at the base and I prepared the equipment.”

He describes troops, his friends, going out each day and not knowing who would return at the end of it.

Henry, who is 94, said: “I lost a lot of friends, we were an independent brigade and many of them were teenagers like me.

“We were living on edge the entire time. Of course, it was frightening and although we were then stationed a few miles away from the fighting, we could hear the gun fire and shells exploding.

“It was particularly bad at night,”

Two years ago Henry was among a group of Normandy veterans awarded the Legion d’ Honneur, the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits, established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte and retained by all later French governments and regimes.

Poignantly he says his trip to Normandy, the second he has made, for the special anniversary may well be the last time he makes the journey.

Henry, who was born in Bournemouth but has lived in Weeley for 30 years, said: “I am probably getting a bit old and I am not sure if I will see anyone I know. But I want to go there and be there, it is important.”

Henry says he remained in France for the rest of the Second World War before being going on to be stationed in Malaysia for three years.

His daughter and granddaughter accompanied him to Normandy last time. He said: “We could not stay in Bayeux, so many people are going to be there, but we are going to Calvados this time. I remember last time I was there I got a lot of interest, because I was wearing my medals, and everyone was stopping to chat to me.

“It is important to keep the memory of what happened alive, with every year that passes, because there are not many of us left who were there.”