An 89-year-old D-Day veteran is preparing to embark on a pilgrimage back to the Normandy beach where he served as a troop leader 70-years-ago.

As dawn broke on June 6, 1944, David Render was among the first of 156,000 allied troops storming the Normandy beaches under a hail of German artillery.

In salute to their memory, the Big Lottery Fund is supporting more than 250 veterans to journey back to the shores of France to join the 70th commemoration ceremonies and pay their respects to lost comrades.

Mr Render, who lives in Totteridge, will return to Gold Beach, where he was in command of six Sherman tanks in the Sherwood Rangers.

After completing his officer training at Sandhurst to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in February 1942, he was assigned to a holding camp in Cumberland. And, in June 1944 he received an order to go to Portsmouth.

He said: "I had no idea why I had been summoned. When I got there I was told to oversee the loading of 16 Cromwell tanks onto a landing craft.

"After I had loaded the tanks on, I went up to a sailor and asked which way to get off the ship. But he just told me to look out of the porthole and when I did I saw we were already at sea. I asked him where we're going and he said 'Normandy, of course'".  

Once they arrived at Gold Beach, the men were told to get the tanks quickly onto dry land - but the ship's commander had not realised there were a number of deep trenches below the sea line.

Mr Render said: "The loading platform was lowered and, the first tank drove off and just went down and down and then suddenly turned upside down and disappeared. It sank with all crew lost. When I saw that I thought of those chaps I'd just been talking to and now they were trapped inside drowning. I thought I would rather have been home with mum."

The ship then had to move to another location along the beach where the other tanks could safely drive off.

Mr Render was given the order to join the Sherwood Rangers on D-Day, and went into battle as troop leader the following day.

He said: "We all knew we were going to get killed - the average lifespan for a trooper was a fortnight. We became numb to it. I certainly wasn't a hero."

In the battle for Normandy, Mr Render had two tanks blown from under him but remained a troop leader until the end of the war.

Speaking about the 70th commemorations, Mr Render said: "To go back to the cemeteries to see our lads is really heart-rending. We were the lucky ones, make no bones about it.

"And we are lucky that we have got an organisation like the Big Lottery Fund who cares for our old soldiers who are still very interested in keeping alive their memories and passing them on to the younger generation who we sincerely hope will not do it again."