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D-Day landings commemorated with bells and beacons

07 June 2024

Diocese of Portsmouth

George Carpenter, a 98-year-old D-Day veteran, ceremonially breaks the ground for a new memorial in Gosport, on Thursday

George Carpenter, a 98-year-old D-Day veteran, ceremonially breaks the ground for a new memorial in Gosport, on Thursday

BELLS rang out, beacons were lit, and thousands of people took part in services and ceremonies commemorating the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, on 6 June 1944, which changed the course of the war.

Many travelled to Normandy to be there in person, including six choral scholars from Exeter Cathedral. They joined young members of the Royal Wessex Yeomanry and their military chaplain, on a visit organised by the Roman Catholic diocese of Bayeux-Lisieux, with which Exeter diocese has a formal link.

The group included the Revd Marisa Cockfield, from Stoke Gabriel, a former military chaplain, and the Revd Sarah Mounoury, from Sidmouth, a Royal Navy veteran. “There is a real sense of friendship, peace, and shared hope among a diverse gathering of people from many nations and of many ages,” she said.

“We have been privileged to meet several veterans and give thanks for their bravery and courage, and to seek to share the gospel messages of love and hope with those we meet.”

The choir took part in a commemoration at the Mémorial de Caen, on Wednesday, followed by a service of thanksgiving organised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at Bayeux Cathedral, and attended by the Princess Royal, on Wednesday, with veterans, their families, and international VIPs. On D-Day itself, the choir laid wreaths and sang an anthem at the British Cemetery.

Twelve lay clerks and choral scholars and 18 boy and girl choristers from Hereford Cathedral choir also travelled to France to take part in Wednesday’s service of thanksgiving: to give a short performance in the Basilica of Sainte-Thérèse de Lisieux, and to sing choral evensong in L’église Saint-Pierre de Caen.

The director of music, Geraint Bowen, said: “It is a great honour for our choir to have been invited to take part in the D-Day 80th-anniversary commemorations. Our previous visit to Normandy in 2019, for the 75th anniversary, was an unforgettable and moving experience for all involved.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury posted on X, on Thursday: “Today we remember the profound bravery and sacrifice of all those involved in the D-Day landings. We will forever be in the debt of those who risked and laid down their lives for us all. We continue to pray for peace in Europe, for all those caught up in war, and for the power of Christ to transform us into those who strive for justice, peace and reconciliation.”

It was a particularly poignant day for the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, as the father of a soldier currently deployed on operational duty. But it was also one of thanksgiving, he said, for those who had served and currently served in His Majesty’s Armed Forces “in defence of our freedom and the seeking of peace”.

Portsmouth played a prominent part in the commemorations. The Bishop, the Rt Revd Jonathan Frost, led a service of dedication for a proposed new memorial in Gosport, for which the 98-year-old D-Day veteran George Carpenter, ceremonially broke the ground.

Mr Carpenter served in the Royal Navy communications branch, and arrived at Utah Beach with United States forces on 6 June 1944. He was joined at the ceremony on Thursday by Martyn Cross, the son of another Gosport D-Day veteran, Ron Cross, who died at the age of 100 in 2021.

“D-Day was a remarkable pinnacle of military planning and logistics, and we should remember all those involved — men and women, civilians and military, code breakers, engineers, and armed forces,” the Bishop said. “We also remember the crucial role that Gosport played in the preparations and embarkations ahead of D-Day, and we are thankful for that.”

The co-founder of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), Jack Hemmings, who is 102, was in Normandy for the anniversary. A former squadron leader, he is believed to have become Britain’s oldest pilot to fly a Spitfire, when he took off from Biggin Hill in February.

He was there to retrace the steps of his best friend the MAF co-founder Stuart King, who died in 2020. “I often look on myself as a rarity, being a World War II survivor at the age of 102, but the camaraderie we will feel being together to celebrate D-Day will be poignant,” he said.

“Knowing all these folks have been through what I have — and a lot worse — will be very humbling indeed. I am immensely proud of Stuart and the D-Day chaps, and I feel it’s a privilege to be alive today.”

In Carlisle, churches around the diocese were involved in a series of special services and beacon-lighting events. The Bishop of Penrith and Acting Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd Rob Saner-Haigh, said: “Like so many of us, I have listened to the recollections of D-Day veterans and watched the black-and-white footage of soldiers preparing to storm the Normandy beaches from landing craft on D-Day and over subsequent days.

“The courage and bravery shown by all those veterans who fought for our freedom is immeasurable. We owe each and every one of them our deepest thanks, and recognise that so many paid the ultimate sacrifice in order that we might live free. My prayers are with all those who fought for our freedom, and I also remember in prayer and gratitude those veterans who have been able to travel to France to remember fallen comrades.”

A D-Day prayer prepared by the Archdeacon of West Cumberland, the Ven. Stewart Fyfe, was widely used in the diocese on Thursday: “Loving Father, whose son, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, laid down his life that we might be free; we thank you for those who on D-Day offered their lives for our freedom. We pray today for all who still bear the wounds of war. As we honour the fallen, we pray for those who love them in death as in life. We ask for the courage to contend today for all that is good, noble, and true, and for the grace to live by your words, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be children of God.’ Through Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Amen.”

There were many symbols of peace in the commemorations. The Dean of St Patrick’s Anglican Cathedral, Armagh, the Very Revd Shane Forster, reminded the congregation that D-Day was the largest naval, air, and land operation in history. “As we bring to mind the events of 6 June 1944, may we recommit ourselves to the cause of peace and justice for which so many fought and died, and by the grace of God, prove us worthy of their sacrifice each day of our lives,” he said.

A piper playing a lament preceded members of the Combined Cadet Force and the Army Cadet Force, who carried the D-Day 80 Lamp Light of Peace, a ruby-red oil lantern, through the cathedral and placed it in the sanctuary. The flame represented the light of peace that emerged from the darkness of war, and the lamp itself was coloured red to represent the ultimate sacrifice made on the beaches of Normandy, and elsewhere throughout the Second World War. A beacon was lit in the grounds of the cathedral.

Bells in 330 churches in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland rang out for peace at 6.30 p.m. on Thursday, or at their own appointed time. They included the bells of Great Malvern Priory, the oldest complete set of bells cast together, in 1673, and the bell at Holy Ascension, Littleworth, in Oxfordshire, which was rung 80 times by 12-year-old Kit Margey.

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