A NEWPORT veteran was awarded one of just four honorary medals when he returned to Normandy last week as part of the D-Day celebrations.
Frank James, 95, returned to the beach where he fought during the D-Day landings 70 years ago for the first time last Friday.
He was also honoured with a service and medal - one of just four given out - at a ceremony on Gold Beach by the mayor of Creully, the town Mr James helped to liberate 70 years ago.
"I had a smashing time," he said. "It was brilliant. I'm getting a bit long in the tooth to go away for a whole week now, mind. But I enjoyed it, and met some great people.
"I got two Gold Beach medals too from the mayor of Cruelly. It was a great event."
It was the first time Mr James has been back to Gold Beach, where he and his comrades in the Royal Dragoons landed, one of 25,000 Allied troops brought into Normandy via that beach on June 6 1944.
By midnight on D-Day, 400 Allied servicemen had lost their lives on Gold Beach alone.
Mr James, who was a Trooper in the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, was delighted to run into a a couple of his former comrades while he was in Normandy.
"I saw a couple of the lads who were in my regiment. They're getting on a bit now mind, like me. Only four of us received the medal but it was lovely to see them. And the weather was scorching hot for us too, which was great."
Mr James returned to Normandy with a team of three other Newport men to be part of the commemorative events held to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
He and fellow Royal Welsh Comrades members Richard Crew, 70, David Smith, 75 and Mr Crew's friend Gerald Lee, 62, travelled the region in Mr Crew's camper van, with Mr Crew even managing to cook them a Sunday dinner.
Mr Crew told the Argus that while he was cooking, children and residents from the neighbouring town clamoured around Mr James asking him for his signature.
"I've got writer's cramp after that," Mr James said. "My mate said I should've charged two euro a signature and donated it to charity."
The group took part in several commemorative events, including laying poppy crosses at the Bayeux war cemetery as a mark of respect to Mr James' fallen comrades.
The Royal Dragoons liberated Creully on June 6 and there is a memorial dedicated to them in the town.
Mr James was working at Lysaght's when news of the Second World War broke and he heard on the wireless the call for reservists to report to barracks.
As a member of the 1st Monmouthshire, a Territorial Army unit, he knew he was needed. Mr James was assigned barrack duties before being transferred to the Royal Welsh and then 60 Training Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps, where he learned to drive three-tonne lorries and tanks before he was posted to 4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards at Banbury, Oxfordshire.
Before he knew it, he was on a ship waiting to land on Gold Beach and transport the ammunition for the tanks.
He said: "It brought back some memories being there. I remembered hearing the heavy German shellfire from the shore - that was the first bit of action I experienced. It was good to go back."