As the few get fewer, D-Day veterans like Maurice Weeks realise more and more how lucky they were.
As one of the first Allied troops to set foot on the Normandy beaches 70 years ago this morning, the old soldier from Preston admits he led a charmed life as the invasion of France began.
Maurice and his team dodged mines, shells and bullets to get their anti-aircraft gun ashore to protect the main wave of British forces landing on Gold Beach.
Many others were not so fortunate as the largest seaborne invasion in history turned the tide of the war.
Asked today how bad things were in those first few hours, he pauses, shakes his head and says: “Well, it wasn’t good.”
Approaching his 94th birthday, Maurice walks slowly these days with the aid of a frame. A far cry from dawn on June 6, 1944 when his nimble footwork got him through the surf and along the shoreline to shelter.
In the lottery that was Operation Overlord, many men died even before they made dry land. Others, standing by their side chest deep in water, battled ashore and survived without a scratch.
“I was very, very lucky,” recalled Maurice, a gunner in the Royal Artillery. “I couldn’t even swim! We lost some good men. One of my comrades stood on a mine and lost both legs. It was awful.
“We were the first batch ashore with our guns. It was a big beach and we were very exposed. We were getting shot at and shells were bursting around us. Yet somehow we got through it.
“I’m here to tell the tale today. The other six in my gun crew made it too. But I’m not sure what happened to them all after that.”
Maurice decided against a 70th anniversary trip from his Ingol home to Normandy today with an ever-decreasing number of fellow survivors. He made his pilgrimage 10 years ago for the 60th. It was his first - and last - return.
“It was a very emotional time for Maurice and us,” said son-in-law Ken Youde. “We walked on Gold Beach, saw the remains of the Mulberry harbours and visited war cemeteries.
“He was remarkable because he could recall the landmarks on the beach and exactly where he and his fellow gunners were.”
Maurice, born in Kent, came to Preston for training after enlisting in the Royal Artillery. He and his comrades were billeted in tents on Moor Park, while their guns were stored in the nearby football ground for safe-keeping. He met his wife Rhoda during that stay and returned after the war to marry her.
The Allies suffered an estimated 1,000 casualties on Gold Beach in those first few hours of the invasion.
The toll was similar on Juno and Sword beaches. The Americans lost around 2,000 troops landing on Omaha Beach, but less than 200 on Utah.