Arena Travel is proud to be involved in the momentous D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance, setting sail from Dover on 2nd June 2019, in a ship charter orchestrated by the Royal British Legion and Fred. Olsen.
The Fred. Olsen ship the Boudicca will provide a home-from-home for up to 300 veterans, each with a partner, relative or carer, as they return to the very beaches in Normandy on which the D-Day landings took place on 6th June 1944.
In this exclusive interview with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Declan Treanor, Chairmen here at Arena Travel, explains how this extraordinary voyage came about.
How long has the D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance been in the making, and how did the partnership between Arena Travel and the Royal British Legion begin?
We were initially asked by the Royal British Legion to look into substantial accommodation for veterans last June. We already had hotels booked in Caan and Staffordshire to cater for veterans going to France and in the UK at the National Memorial Arboretum, but it quickly became apparent that this was going to be a much bigger event than hotels alone could cope with. Our aim was to allow as many veterans as possible who wished to return to France to do so, provided they are fit enough to travel.
How did the concept of transporting the veterans via cruise ship come about?
Suitable hotel space was not available in one hotel, or even in the same town. We brainstormed and came up with the idea of using a ship. Ferry passenger ships would not have sufficient accommodation and facilities to cater for the numbers expected, hence a cruise ship emerged as a good solution.
What kind of response have you had from the veterans who will be joining the voyage?
Arena Travel know a lot of the veterans from previous tours over the last four years, all of which have been funded by fines imposed on banks as a result of the LIBOR scandal. This means that neither the veterans, nor their carers, have had to pay to join the Voyage of Remembrance. The veterans are very pleased at being given the opportunity to travel with so many comrades to this momentous commemoration. They are excited at the prospect but are also very conscious that they are the lucky ones who returned, so have very mixed emotions.
Could you talk us through the process? How were the veterans notified of the voyage, and what did they have to do to apply?
Press releases were sent to the media by the Ministry of Defence, the Royal British Legion and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, which led to good press, TV and radio coverage.
In addition, Arena Travel notified all veterans who had travelled before. The Royal British Legion and Arena Travel also took part in a large number of regional radio interviews to get the message out as far as possible. Veterans had to have been involved in the D-Day Campaign either in the UK or France in order to qualify. This information is known to them and can easily be confirmed through their service record. Any veterans who had travelled with us to Normandy previously had already been verified as qualifying to travel. They were then sent quite detailed application forms and each one was telephoned once the application forms were received.
The aim is to get as many veterans to Normandy as possible, but we also need to ensure that they are fit enough to take on the voyage. It has been a long process but it is wonderful that so many are able to travel over to Normandy, and many for the first time.
How does it feel knowing that Arena Travel has been integral to providing this opportunity to the veterans?
Arena Travel has been working with the Royal British Legion since 2013, and we are very proud to be their sole provider of adult Remembrance Tours. The LIBOR-fine-funded veteran tours have been running since 2015 and it has been an absolute honour to be involved with them. Most of our team have travelled as tour managers on these tours and have been moved by our involvement with the veterans. To be able to be with these men, share their stories and just listen when they are remembering fallen colleagues is a privilege. Many of them keep in touch and their families let us know if they pass away.
We know that this voyage will be just as poignant, if not even more so, and to be able to play a part in offering this opportunity is a tremendous honour. We look forward to welcoming them all aboard Boudicca in Dover on 2nd June.
The D-Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance will be taking place from the 2nd – 9th June and will see us transport 300 veterans, along with their family members and travel companions to the places that they selflessly travelled 75 years ago.