D-Day: Veterans and world leaders mark 75th anniversary

D-Day veterans at the British Normandy Memorial siteImage copyright PA
Image caption D-Day veterans made the journey to Normandy to attend commemorations

The only words we can say to veterans are “thank you”, Theresa May has told a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.

Her words were echoed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who told D-Day veterans gathered in northern France that we owe them “our freedom”.

The day of commemorative events began with a lone piper marking the moment the first UK soldiers went ashore.

Donald Trump later told US veterans they were “the pride of the nation”.

The US president was at a service at the US war cemetery at Omaha Beach.

Hundreds of veterans are gathered in Normandy for the anniversary of the largest combined land, air and naval operation in history.

The day’s commemorations mark key events in the operation, which was aimed at bringing an end to World War Two.

By night-time on 6 June 1944, about 156,000 Allied troops had landed on Normandy’s beaches, despite challenging weather and fierce German defences. Some had drowned when they were accidentally dropped off too soon in deep waters.

By the end of D-Day, the Allies had established a foothold in France and within 11 months Nazi Germany was defeated and the war was over.

At 06:26 BST – the exact minute the first British troops landed on the beaches in 1944 – a lone piper played on a section of the Mulberry Harbour in the town of Arromanches.

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Media captionD-Day: Paratroopers land in France to mark 75th anniversary

Mr Macron and Mrs May – in one of her final engagements as Conservative leader – were in Ver-sur-Mer to see the first stone laid for a memorial to commemorate the 22,442 British troops who died there in the summer of 1944.

The memorial, which overlooks Gold Beach, depicts three soldiers advancing across the beach.

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Media captionMrs May and Mr Macron say ‘thank you’ to D-Day veterans

Mrs May told the ceremony that she was humbled to be able to mark the moment with veterans, who belonged to a “very special generation”.

“A generation whose unconquerable spirit shaped the post-war world. They didn’t boast. They didn’t fuss. They served,” she said.

“And they laid down their lives so that we might have a better life and build a better world.

“If one day can be said to have determined the fate of generations to come in France, in Britain, in Europe and the world, that day was June 6, 1944,” she added.

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Media caption“I don’t think I should tell you what I saw because it was so horrible”
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption D-Day Royal Navy veteran Ted Emmings, 94, passes a house in Arromanches decorated with a photo of himself and other veterans

Also paying tribute, Mr Macron said: “This is where young men, many of whom had never set foot on French soil, landed at dawn under German fire, risking their lives while fighting their way up the beach, which was littered with obstacles and mines.”

The French president went on to say he was proud to have worked with Mrs May.

“Leaders may come and go but their achievements remain. The force of our friendship will outlast current events,” he said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Prince Charles joined the prime minister to mark the anniversary at a ceremony in Bayeux

Following the inauguration ceremony, Mrs May, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attended a service at the cathedral in Bayeux, the first city to be liberated by the invasion.

At the start of the service, a message was read out on behalf of Pope Francis, in which he said D-Day was “decisive in the fight against Nazi barbarism”. He also paid tribute to those who “joined the Army and gave their lives for freedom and peace”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the service was “beautiful and inclusive”, in memory of those “who died in Normandy and ultimately helped to defeat the scourge of fascism”.

The service was followed by a ceremony at Bayeux War Cemetery, where many of the fallen are buried.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump accompanied Mr Macron at a ceremony at the US war cemetery at Omaha Beach, Colleville-sur-Mer.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Donald Trump and the First Lady, Melania, joined Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, for D-Day commemorations in Normandy
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The US president greeted D-Day veterans

He told veterans gathered there: “You are among the greatest Americans who will ever live. You are the pride of the nation. You are the glory of our republic and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

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Media captionDonald Trump praised troops at a service in the US war cemetery at Omaha Beach

Other events taking place include:

  • A veteran’s parade in Arromanches, followed by a Red Arrows flypast
  • A service of remembrance and wreath laying at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire
  • In Portsmouth, a veteran’s parade before a memorial service at the city’s D-Day Stone
  • The Duke of Sussex is joining the Chelsea Pensioners and six D-Day veterans for Founder’s Day at London’s Royal Hospital Chelsea
  • In Edinburgh, 15 D-Day veterans will be presented with the Knight of the Légion d’Honneur Cross at the French Consulate
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Prince William is among those at a service at the National Memorial Arboretum

At the National Memorial Arboretum, the Duke of Cambridge gave an address which was originally made by his great-grandfather George VI in 1944.

He read: “Four years ago our nation and empire stood alone against an overwhelming enemy, with our backs to the wall.

“Now once more a supreme test has to be faced.”

He added: “This time the challenge is not to fight to survive but to fight to win the final victory for the good cause.

“At this historic moment surely not one of us is too busy, too young, or too old to play a part in a nationwide, perchance a world-wide vigil of prayer as the great crusade sets forth.”

Image copyright Getty Images

During Prince Harry’s visit to Royal Hospital Chelsea, he joked with Chelsea Pensioners and asked them “who’s your favourite?” while gesturing to hospital staff.

Wednesday saw the first day of the 75th anniversary events, with leaders from every country that fought alongside the UK on D-Day joining the Queen in Portsmouth.

Veterans of the landings were there to hear the Queen as she paid tribute to the “heroism, courage and sacrifice” of those who died.

Mr Trump – who was on the last day of his three-day UK state visit – said D-Day “may have been the greatest battle ever”.

D-Day landing craftGetty Images

D-Day landings

  • 7,000ships and landing craft involved and 10,000 vehicles

  • 4,400from the combined allied forces died on the day

  • 4,000 – 9,000German casualties

  • Thousandsof French civilians also died

Around 300 veterans were then waved off on the cruise ship MV Boudicca as it set off for the Normandy commemorations.

But two veterans – Harry Read, 95, and John Hutton, 94, – parachuted back into Normandy, 75 years after their first landing.

This time, they jumped in tandem with members of the Army’s Parachute Regiment display team, the Red Devils – and were greeted by cheers.

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Media captionVeteran Harry Billinge, 93, on his memories of friends who died during the Normandy invasion in 1944
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Image caption Harry Read, 95, recreated his parachute jump into Normandy 75 years ago