A pair of D-Day veterans, who have just celebrated their 90th birthdays, have been reunited on board a modern day warship in Portsmouth – 73 years after they last docked there in World War Two.

Norman Burns and Alfred ‘Alfie’ Booker were welcomed on board by HMS Westminster, the most advanced frigate in the Royal Navy’s fleet, for a lavish lunch following a request to The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) from Mr Booker’s son Murray.

The Royal Navy not only offered its honoured guests a chance to enjoy first-class hospitality but representatives also presented the D-Day veterans with one of the highest possible military honours from the French Government, the Légion d'Honneur.

Commenting on the occasion, Alfie’s son Murray said: “Everybody on Westminster really played their part in making their birthday celebrations more than special this is, something that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Lunch in the Wardroom was something special, especially when the Captain served us drinks”.

Photo (left to right): Alfie, Cdr Simon Kelly RN and Norman are presented with their Légion d'Honneur

Shipmates for 70 years

Alfie BookerNorman, who resides in Bournemouth, and Alfie, of Lichfield, met each other in the Royal Navy as trainee gunners on HMS Ramillies at just 17 years old.

HMS Ramillies was sent to support the Allied invasion of France on D-Day, June 6 1944. The Revenge-class battleship was tasked with silencing the Berneville Battery, knocking out of the Germans’ six guns in the first 80 minutes and keeping the attention of the rest “allowing landing craft to proceed unmolested”, according to Alfie.

Another vividly recited story revealed that Ramillies’ Captain Gervese Middleton wore a piupiu (a Maori grass skirt) for good luck throughout the offensive. Amazingly no casualties were sustained by the Ramilies or her crew. The grass skirt is now on permanent display at The Royal Marines Museum in Southsea.

Recalling past victories

Accompanied by their wives, Betty and Bronwyn, the veterans regaled further stories to HMS Westminster’s Commanding Officer and crew, occasionally breaking out into song – including the Vera Lynn song ‘We’ll Meet Again’ – before being awarded with their medals.

Cdr Simon Kelly said: “It’s an absolute honour to present this award to two of the nation’s Royal Navy veterans. They are a true inspiration for today’s serving sailors. They have certainly inspired the crew here on HMS Westminster.”

The modern HMS Westminster inherits its namesake from the 1918 ship of the same name, which was one of the famous V and W-class destroyers built to deal with the first U-boat menace in the Great War. In the Inter-War period the ship was held in reserve. She saw action again during the Blitzkrieg campaign of 1940, helping to evacuate Allied troops from Flushing, before being damaged off Dunkirk.

Photo (left to right): Norman meets HMS Westminster Gunner Walton with Alfie

Charitable initiative

The Portsmouth-based Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity led the effort to make the 90th birthday a special one after being told Alfie wanted to “see his shipmate” to celebrate the special day.

Lauren Kempton, Human Resources Officer at The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity said: “Although reunions are something we don’t normally do, I knew we could help.

“The fact that Norman and Alfie are still friends 73 years since they met as trainee gunners on HMS Ramillies is inspirational. I feel lucky and proud to have been a part of their Birthday celebrations,” she added.