Royal family celebrate ‘courage, resilience and solidarity’ of D-Day veterans

MoneyJun 7, 2024 IDOPRESS

The King spoke at length of the courage of the D-Day veteran along with the Queen in Portsmouth

Credit: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

It is a “near impossible task”,the King said,“to imagine the emotion of that day”.

“The pride of being part of so great an enterprise,the anxiety of in some way not coming up to scratch,and the fear of that day being their last.”

For the handful of surviving veterans watching the King speak at commemorations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day,there was no need to use their imagination: their memories of June 6 1944,are ever-vivid and ever-present.

Some closed their eyes as he delivered his speech,lost in the visions of what he called the “terrible leap of faith” onto the beaches of Normandy.

One,Eric Bateman,took to the stage himself to remember the “dear friend” he lost. The King wiped his eyes as he heard of his experiences; the Queen was photographed with a tear glinting.

RAF veteran Bernard Morgan,100,from Crewe,salutes the fallen

Credit: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Those 160,000 Allied troops,who assembled along the British coastline waiting for their D-Day orders 80 years ago,have now dwindled to a few.

And those few are determined to remember.

The Royal family did their part on both sides of the Channel: the King,the Queen and the Prince of Wales at a service in Portsmouth,Hants,and the Princess Royal in Normandy,France.

On Thursday,all of them will be in France for the major 80th anniversary commemorations of that greatest amphibious operation in history along with world leaders,including US president Joe Biden.

Veterans,VIPs and royalty were at the commemorative event in Portsmouth

Credit: Kin Cheung - Pool/Getty Images

The RAF Red Arrows performed a flypast over Portsmouth

Credit: Cpl Phil Dye

The King,who has freshly returned to public duties while having treatment for cancer,is undertaking a slightly reduced programme,but spoke at length and with emotion from the stage in Portsmouth with the Queen by his side.

“The stories of courage,resilience and solidarity we have heard today and throughout our lives cannot fail to move us,to inspire us and to remind us of what we owe to that great wartime generation – now,tragically,dwindling to so few,” he said.

He described how he had recently met veterans who remembered “with such heartbreaking clarity the sight of those many soldiers lying on the beach,who drowned before they could even engage in combat”.

The Prince of Wales met veterans in Portsmouth

Credit: Leon Neal/PA Wire

The Princess Royal,president of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission,unveils a new statue of a Canadian soldier

Credit: Aaron Chown/Pool via REUTERS

“It is our privilege to hear their testimony,but our role is not purely passive: it is our duty to ensure that we,and future generations,do not forget their service and their sacrifice in replacing tyranny with freedom.

“Our rights,and the liberty won at such terrible cost,bring with them responsibilities to others in the exercise of that liberty.”

The Prince of Wales gave a reading at the event,delivering words from the diary of Capt Alastair Bannerman,a soldier who was part of the D-Day landings.

“Our guests of honour today are those veterans from the Normandy landing,that came from across our nation and from all walks of life to join in the fight against tyranny,” Prince William said.

“Many of those that took up arms had never seen combat before,some were still only in their teens. In their letters and diaries we see their great strength.”

The event,hosted by Dame Helen Mirren,mixed solemn memorial with music,with veterans seen waving flags and singing along to tunes including Dame Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again,performed by actress Helen George.

There were a series of reenactments dramatising the build-up to D-Day,including a weather report taken from a telegram at the time – now famous as being an essential part of the invasion’s success.

Parachutists carrying out reenactments wore wearing replica WWII-era paratrooper attire

Credit: LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Image

Afterwards,the senior members of the Royal family met the 21 veterans who had made it to the event in person.

One,98-year-old Keith Whiting,had served with the Royal Marines on board the same ship as the late Duke of Edinburgh.

The Prince of Wales told veteran Geoffrey Weaving,who asked whether his wife the Princess is “getting any better”,that “she is”,adding: “She’d love to be here today.”

Roy Hayward,98,who served as a reserve tank crewman and landed on Gold Beach,said of the service: “It made me feel reminiscent and it has made me think of all the people who didn’t come back.”

Other veterans had made the journey across the Channel to Normandy,where they will on Thursday attend the British memorial at Ver-sur-Mer: one of multiple ceremonies for the Allied countries which took part in Operation Overlord.

Commemorations will be marked across the Channel in Normandy

Credit: EDDIE MULHOLLAND for The Telegraph.

Princess Anne travelled a day before her older brother,for a series of services on June 5 including the unveiling of a new statue commemorating the Royal Regina Rifles and the annual Royal British Legion service of commemoration at the Bayeux War Cemetery.

She paid tribute to the “loyalty,bravery and duty” of forces in the Second World War and,speaking in English and French,called on the public to “never forget the sacrifices and determination”.

At the Bayeux War Cemetery,with its neat lines of immaculately-tended graves,she spoke to more than a dozen British servicemen who saw action on D-Day.

Some,at the age of 100,insisted on standing to chat,as Princess Anne shouted to be heard over the buzz of conversation and a military band playing outside.

Eric Bateman spoke about a friend he lost - a story which brought a tear to the King's eyes

Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

She told one the weather has proved the “perfect conditions for it”,holding hands with several in turn as she made her way around the tables.

Jack Mortimer,from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps landed on Sword Beach at the age of 20,driving as shells and mortar flew overhead and eventually advancing to Caen.

Pointing to the cemetery,the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission of the Second World War in France,he told the Princess: “The main reason I’m here is those men out there.”

With a twinkle in his eye,he also tried out one of his best chat up lines on her,leaving her in gales of laughter before reassuring her,“I’m not going to kiss you”.

The Princess told Donald Jones,99,who landed at 8am on D-Day as a Royal Navy gunner on a landing craft tank that she does her job “to meet people like you”.

Richard Trelease,a Royal Navy radar operator and navigator,was among those who insisted on standing to talk to the Princess. She remarked,smiling,on the “standards”.

“We’re not going to live a lot longer,” he said afterwards,when asked why he came back for the anniversary. “Therefore it’s the right thing to come and see the beaches again.”

The Princess went on to a service at Bayeux Cathedral,and back to the cemetery for a late-night vigil as president of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

“Imagine the nervous trepidation of those allied sailors,soldiers and airmen who,80 years ago today,were charged with storming the Normandy coastline and beginning the campaign to free Western Europe from Nazi tyranny,” she said.

“80 years on,let their memory still live on in our hearts.”

American WWII veteran Bill Wall throws roses into the water during a wreath-laying ceremony at Utah Beach

Credit: AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez

In the skies above Sannerville,in Normandy,some 400 British,Belgian and US paratroopers recreated the jump made 80 years ago for the airborne liberation of Normandy.

They included the first British female paratrooper to be included in the D-Day commemorations,22-year-old Lance Corporal Addy Carter,of 16 Medical Regiment.

“To be able to be a part of history,especially on the 80th anniversary,is amazing,” she said,adding she felt “honoured” to play her part.

Sgt Danny Mawson,a reservist with 4 para,jumped into Sannerville with a stuffed toy chicken called Myrtle tucked into his zip-up canvas bag.

It was in memory of Lieut Joseph Glover,of the 10th parachute battalion,who in 1944 began jumping with the real-life Myrtle stowed inside his canvas bag,to settle an argument with a soldier who insisted chickens could not fly.

Over the course of a few months,Myrtle completed six jumps,with Lieut Glover releasing her at varying distances from the ground,until she was awarded her parachute wings,which she wore around her neck on a plastic band.

Another 11 veterans,travelling with the Spirit of Normandy Trust,took part in a service of remembrance at Colleville-Montgomery.

Royal Navy veteran Alec Penstone,who served on HMS Campania,said: “I’m surprised I’m still here,I didn’t expect to be. I’m very lucky.

“I realised how many of my wonderful shipmates... died. I don’t know how I’m still spared.”

Back in Portsmouth,one veteran thanked the Prince of Wales for the Royal family being there to show their support.

“No,” said William,“we’re here to thank you.”

On Thursday,the main commemorations will begin,demonstrating to those remaining few D-Day heroes what their actions 80 years ago have meant to the world.

“We are all,” said the King,“eternally,in their debt.”

Additional reporting by Victoria Ward,Deputy Royal Editor,in Portsmouth; and Danielle Sheridan,Defence Editor in Normandy

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