‘Greatest generation’ of veterans remembered on anniversary of D-Day

VETERANS and world leaders have gathered in a small village in northern France to begin a day of D-Day commemorative events.

Thursday, 6th June 2019, 10:38 am
Updated Thursday, 6th June 2019, 10:41 am
Patrick Moore from Kent, a veteran of the Royal Engineers, ahead of the Inauguration of the British Normandy Memorial site in Ver-sur-Mer, France, on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

The 75th anniversary has brought together veterans from Allied nations on both sides of the English Channel to witness an inauguration ceremony for a new D-Day memorial.

The memorial, which overlooks Gold Beach, records the names of more than 20,000 British servicemen who died in the D-Day landings and Battle of Normandy.

It depicts three soldiers advancing across the beach.

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Prime Minister Theresa May at the inauguration of the British Normandy Memorial site in Ver-sur-Mer, France, during commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

Theresa May paid tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of the ‘greatest generation’ of service personnel who served during the landings – a day after reading at the D-Day 75 commemorations on Southsea Common yesterday.

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

‘More than 156,000 men landed on D-Day, of which 83,000 were from Britain and the Commonwealth.

‘Over a quarter of a million more supported operations from air and sea, while the French Resistance carried out extraordinary acts of bravery from behind enemy lines.

‘Many were terribly wounded, and many made the ultimate sacrifice that day, and in the fierce sacrifice that followed, as together our Allied nations sought to release Europe from the grip of fascism.’

The prime minister read the names of several British troops who were killed during the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy.

‘These young men belonged to a very special generation, the greatest generation,’ she said.

‘A generation whose incomparable spirit shaped our postwar world.

‘They didn't boast. They didn't fuss. They served.’

Dignitaries will later be invited to lay memorial wreaths and the last post will be played at the site where more than 4,000 war dead are buried.

Nearby, in the town of Arromanches, around 300 veterans have gathered to commemorate their fallen comrades.

Events began at 6.25am BST, with the tradition of a lone piper playing a lament on the remaining Mulberry artificial harbour in the town, named Port Winston.

The lament signals the time at which the first British soldier stepped onto Gold Beach at the beginning of the D-Day landings.

It was played by Major Trevor Macey-Lillie, of 19th Regiment Royal Artillery (The Scottish Gunners).

He played Highland Laddie, a tune based on a poem by Robert Burns.

Speaking after his performance, Pipe Major Macey-Lillie said: ‘That was nerve wracking to do but I feel very proud and it was a privilege to do it.’

Mrs May was completing one of her last engagements as a Conservative Prime Minister.

After her speech this morning, she looked out across Gold Beach with French President Emmanuel Macron.

She was joined by defence minister Tobias Ellwood, head of the British Army Mark Carlton-Smith and Mark Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff.

A service is now taking place at Bayeux Cathedral in France.

Here’s Theresa May’s statement in full:

‘Thank you President Macron for your support to ensure a lasting monument to the service and sacrifice of those who fought in the Battle of Normandy - something which means so much to our veteran community and to the whole of the British nation.

‘It is incredibly moving to be here today, looking out across beaches where one of the greatest battles for freedom this world has ever known took place - and it is truly humbling to do so with the men who were there that day.

‘It is an honour for all of us to share this moment with you.

‘Standing here, as the waves wash quietly onto the shore, it's almost impossible to grasp the raw courage that it must have taken that day to leap out from landing craft and into the surf - despite the fury of battle.

‘No one could be certain what June 6 would bring. No one would know how this - the most ambitious - amphibious and airborne assault in all of human history, would turn out.

‘And, as the sun rose that morning, not one of the troops on the landing craft approaching these shores, not one of the pilots in the skies above, not one of the sailors at sea - knew whether they would still be alive when it set once again.

‘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.

‘More than 156,000 men landed on D-Day - of which 83,000 were from Britain and the Commonwealth.

‘Over a quarter million more supported operations from air and sea - while the French Resistance carried out extraordinary acts of bravery behind enemy lines. Many were terribly wounded.

‘And many more made the ultimate sacrifice that day and in the fierce fighting that followed, as together our allied nations sought to release Europe from the grip of fascism.

‘Men like Lieutenant Den Brotheridge of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Twenty-eight years old. Husband. Father-to-be. Thought to be the first Allied soldier to be killed in action after leading the charge over Pegasus Bridge.

‘Marine Commando Robert Casson of 46 Royal Marine Commando, who was killed on the approach to Juno Beach, three weeks before his brother Private Joseph Casson was also killed in Normandy.

‘And twins Robert and Charles Guy, 21, who both served in the RAF and were shot down and buried separately. Their names will now be reunited here.

‘These young men belonged to a very special generation, the greatest generation.

‘A generation whose unconquerable spirit shaped the post-war world. They didn't boast. They didn't fuss. They served.

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

‘The memorial that will be built here will remind us of this. Of the service and sacrifice of those who fell under British Command in Normandy, of the price paid by French civilians - and of our duty, and our responsibility, to now carry the torch for freedom, for peace and for democracy.

‘I want to thank all those involved in this memorial. George Batts and the veterans who have campaigned so hard to make it happen. The people of Ver-sur-Mer, and Phillipe Onillon the town's mayor.

‘Here in Normandy, the names of those British men and women who gave their lives in defence of freedom, will forever sit opposite their homeland across the Channel.

‘Here in Normandy, we will always remember their courage, their commitment, their conviction.

‘And to our veterans, here in Normandy, I want to say the only words we can: thank you.’