Sunday is the 60th anniversary of D-Day - the Allied invasion of Europe that truly changed the world. PETER STEBBINGS talks to two men who were there

"We left Southampton at 9.30pm on June 5 on an enormous US landing craft. It was barely light. At 3.30am they woke us up and gave us some food, but I didn't feel like eating. The tension was building up inside me. At 6am we landed on Gold Beach."

Sydney Bernstein was 28 when he became part of the first wave of British troops to arrive on French shores in 1944. Along a 40-mile stretch of Normandy coast, Allied troops began advancing into enemy lines. Operation Overlord better known as D-Day had begun.

Sydney, now 88 and living in Dene Road, New Southgate, was a sapper a private in the Royal Engineers in the Armoured Engineers 81st Assault Squadron. He was in one of nine Churchill tanks sent onto Gold Beach as part of the first wave.

"I was too busy to be scared," he said. "There was no time to think or worry. You go there to do a job and if you come out of there alive, all well and good. But we lost one tank to the biggest mine I ever saw. Four of the five men died and the fifth was permanently blinded.

"We had American soldiers to our right, and Canadian to our left. The Americans lost a lot of men. But we were well trained and we had three vessels behind us firing on to give us help. We were supporting the Canadians as they made their way up the hill."

By the end of the day, the Allied troops had advanced over the hill at Gold Beach. Sydney, a self-confessed insomniac, said: "We had advanced quite a bit and we packed up for the day in an orchard. For the only time in my life I managed to sleep right the way through till morning. That evening the mood was exuberant."

Even now, Sydney says he often wakes up in the middle of the night and wonders if that day he landed on Gold Beach was just a bad dream. As a Jew born in the East End of London, he admits that he had an extra incentive to do some Germans in, as he put it. "I had pride in my regiment, pride that I was British and pride in my Jewish faith," he said.

After that tumultuous day, Sydney's 81st Assault Squadron steam-rolled its way through Normandy, into Belgium and Holland, and by February 1945, they had reached northern Germany. With German resistance flagging on all fronts, Sydney was witness to the horrific scenes of the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after its liberation in April 1945. Although it did not have killing ovens like Auschwitz, more than 35,000 prisoners most of them Jewish died there, many of them from typhoid which was rampant in inhumane camp conditions.

"It was too bad to describe," Sydney said. "It's difficult to put into words because it was so bad. They were just walking skeletons. We only spent a couple of hours there because we had to push on, but it was really horrible. We gave them food and I was able to talk to them in Yiddish which really amazed most of the other soldiers."

John Frost, 84, who lives in Monks Avenue, New Barnet, was part of the liberation forces of Bergen-Belsen. John, just 24 at the time, was serving in the 11th Armoured Division of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He has vivid memories of D-Day and the intricate preparations leading up to it.

"As an army driver, I recall that first week in June 1944 so well," said John. "For days, long convoys of troops, tank carriers and lorries moved along London's arterial roads, all heading to London docks. There were flags all the way with cheering crowds yelling, 'Good luck, boys.' "Once at the docks, we were sealed off from the outside world. No letters, no phoning and, sadly for me, no newspapers."

John is a newspaper fanatic and first started collecting newspapers at the age of ten. After the war, he established John Frost Newspapers, a newspaper archive which now has more than 80,000 British and overseas periodicals.

John said: "We'd been training and getting ready for D-Day for years. All the training was for this moment and we were fully prepared physically and mentally. Going over there aboard our huge tank landing craft, we were apprehensive of course, and we put our vomit bags to good use.

We were a small unit of only about 50 or 60 men and highly mobile."

After landing on Juno Beach, John remembers driving across the sand between sets of white ribbons put up to indicate the area had been cleared of mines. The initial wave of landings, coupled with the relentless British aerial bombardment, had already driven the Germans back from the beach.

John recalled: "We headed a mile or so inland to a deserted farmhouse. The few houses were just ruins. The most memorable thing about that first day was the smell the stench of death. Not human flesh, but cattle. Scores were lying on their sides, pot-bellied and dead."

As the 11th Division advanced away from the shore and towards the town of Caen, they met with much fiercer resistance. In one day alone, the 11th Armoured Division lost more than 100 tanks to the superior German Tiger tanks. It was to be only a short-lived set-back and, in the face of the Allied onslaught, German resistance began to buckle.

In August Johns division made it into Belgium and, on September 4, they liberated Antwerp. Drawing parallels with the current situation in the Middle East, John said: "Now that's what I call a liberation, not like what's happening over in Iraq now. We were the British liberation army and despite not having washed or shaved for seven days, we were hugged and kissed it was a great day to be British. It's different warfare now, but the difference is that we had 100 per cent support from home. Now it's a begrudging support."

Sixty years on from that historic day, John appreciates the enormity of what occurred on the beaches of Normandy and battlefields of Europe, and just how lucky he was to come home alive. "We were living with death every day," said John.

"And as time goes by, I know I was a lucky chap very lucky. I didn't even get a scratch. The true heroes are those we left behind. They are the real heroes."