SEVENTY years ago they fought for our freedom.
Now members of the New Forest Normandy Veterans Association have returned to France alongside comrades from across the country to pay tribute to fallen heroes.
They have enjoyed a warm welcome upon their return ahead of todays commemoration events, including being serenaded by children in French villages.
George Batts, national secretary of the Normandy Veterans' Association, said: ''We thank the villagers for the wonderful way that they have looked after our comrades.''
Denys Hunter is one Hampshire veteran who has returned to meet old friends and remember the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for the cause.
The 90-year-old, who lives in North Baddesley, was part of the attack on Gold Beach and had a lucky escape when a bullet went through his uniform but did not hit him.
He said: “It's just luck really, you never know what could happen to you. I lost friends in the war when it could have been me.
“We just carried on. We could not sit and moan about it.”
Mr Hunter, who was in the Hertfordshire Yeomanry, added: “There was quite a lot of resistance, it was a blur. We had to just get across the beach to find cover. All I could think about was getting across while bullets whizzed over my head.”
Veterans will today attend a service of remembrance at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetary in Bayeux, Normandy, that will be attended by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
The NVA is then hosting another event from 5pm-7pm at Arromanches-les-Bains, at Gold Beach where the British concentrated their attack on D-Day.
But it will be an even more poignant day for the ex-soldiers, as the NVA is to officially disband across the country by November due to dwindling membership.
Meanwhile Hampshire County Council leader Roy Perry has also travelled to France as the guest of the Laurent Beauvais, president of the Lower Normandy Regional Council.
Cllr Perry and his wife Veronica will attend an international ceremony at Ouistreham at Sword Beach, which was invaded by a mix of British and Free French forces.
He said: “My father fought in France in the Battle for France, although not at D Day, and he always told me he was the last British soldier to arrive in France and he never saw a German soldier but this ceremony will bring home to me the danger those young soldiers faced back in 1944.
“My grandfather was killed in the World War One, my wife's father was killed in World War Two and so it is not until three generations later, the generation of my grandchildren, that they have known both grandfathers. That is the story of so many families and why we must never forget the horror of war.”
The couple will rub shoulders with world leaders at the ceremony, including The Queen, US president Barack Obama and French president Francois Hollande.
After the ceremony, Cllr Perry will present Basse Normandie Council with photos of the D-Day preparations in Hampshire in 1944, including a photo of Southwick House in Southwick, near Fareham, that was used as Allied headquarters by supreme commander General Dwight Eisenhower and British commander General Bernard Montgomery.