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Queen leads tributes to D-Day veterans

06 June 2014

by Gavin Drake in Normandy


Moments relived: British veterans and other participants attend a French-British D-Day commemoration ceremony at the British War Cemetery in Bayeux, on Friday

Moments relived: British veterans and other participants attend a French-British D-Day commemoration ceremony at the British War Cemetery in Ba...

THE Queen is leading tributes to the heroes of the Normandy landings on a day of international ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Between 6 June 1944 and the end of the following month, about 1.5 million troops had entered Normandy at the start of the battle to liberate continental Europe. Losses were significant. Of the 130,000 Allied troops who landed in Normany on the first day, about 10,000 were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. That figure would rise to some 600,000 victims by the end of July 1944.

An international celebration on the site of the landings on Oustreham Beach, code-named Sword, is taking place this afternoon. The Queen is joined by the French President, François Hollande, the President of the United States, Barak Obama, and a host of international leaders, including the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

In a briefing to journalists, President Hollande said that the "exceptional event" was for the "18 nations allied during the war or since reconciled. France will not only pay homage to its liberators, it will celebrate with all the represented countries the enduring relevance of the struggle to build a more peaceful and fraternal world."

Earlier, at Bayeux, the largest British war cemetery in France, the Queen laid a wreath during a service attended by veterans and their families. About 1000 veterans from Britain, the US, and Canada have come to Normandy for the anniversary - the seventh since France was liberated. But the numbers are dwindling.

"The number of veterans has diminished greatly. It is not as big as previous ones," Prebendary John Richards, chaplain to the Plymouth branch of the Normandy Veterans Association, said. "The 50th was a huge one, with 400 coaches. This has got a sadness about it because the veterans are no longer there.

"But it was an excellent parade, and the younger generations are being pulled into things. . . Remembrance is reviving, I guess with the increase in international tensions that we have now. Things are different, but tensions reoccur, and you see old patterns coming back: east and west, or whatever it is."

Writing in the official British souvenir programme, the Queen said that she was "very pleased" to join the veterans in marking the 70th anniversary.

She went on: "On 6 June 1944, after months of planning and training, the largest amphibious assault in history was launched to secure freedom in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of servicemen made the journey across the Channel by sea and air, and through their brave actions and dogged determination, established a vital foothold in Occupied Europe. This immense and heroic endeavour brought the end of the Second World War within reach."

The commemorations, she said, would provide the veterans and the people of Normandy with "an opportunity to reflect on their experiences and the incredible sacrifices that were made."

Houses and streets throughout Normandy are bedecked with French, British, American, and Canadian flags, as well as the occasional Belgian, German, and Australian flag. Handwritten messages are posted in windows, saying simply "Merci", or "Thanks".

At this morning's ceremony in Bayeux Cemetery, the Prince of Wales read from Romans 8.31-39: "If God be for us, who can be against us?"; and the national secretary of the Normandy Veterans Association, George Batts, led the recital of the Normandy Veterans Prayer.

Before the service began, the assembled congregation heard what sounded like an approaching helicopter. Many assumed that it was the arrival of the Queen, and gasped with delight when it turned out to be a low-level fly-past of a Spitfire, Lancaster bomber, and Dakota transport plane.

Earlier, in the nearby Bayeux Cathedral, the Queen attended an ecumenical service at which the new Thérèse-Bénédicte bell for peace and freedom was consecrated to "call out for brotherhood amongst peoples". The bell, which was sponsored by the Queen, is named after Saint Teresa Benedicta, the patron saint of Europe. A Carmelite nun, she was executed in Auschwitz in August 1942.

The former Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, who is national chaplain to the Royal British Legion, preached at the service, which was led by the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, André Vingt-Trois.

Later today, at the conclusion of the international service, attention will move to the beach at Arromanches, code-named Gold, for the last of the British services.

'King George prefaced the invasion of western Europe by the Allies with a simple call to prayer for God's blessing' - read the Church Times' leader from June 1944


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