News story

Military descend from the skies to mark D-Day 70

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Events in Normandy and Portsmouth commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Yesterday afternoon, more than 300 airborne troops from the UK, France, Canada and the United States parachuted onto the fields of Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Watched by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and the Chief of the General Staff General Sir Peter Wall, the spectacular display began with a jump by the Red Devils, the Parachute Regiment’s freefall display team.

Among them making a tandem jump was 89-year-old Jock Hutton, a veteran of D-Day who parachuted into France himself 70 years ago.

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales talking to veterans [Picture: Corporal Barry Lloyd RLC, Crown copyright]

Speaking after making the tandem jump, Jock said:

I couldn’t see very much of anything on the ground, but I had a leg bag on me which landed before me and gave me full warning I was about to crash down.

We dropped very low, we didn’t stay in the air as long as we did today. The type of aircraft was very different to the C-130.

We had a task to do, and that was foremost in our minds. Our main target was to liberate Ranville and we did that before first light.

D-Day 70 parachute jump, Ranville

Private Nick Rabson of 16 Medical Regiment jumped from a Dakota aircraft carrying the parachute wings worn by his grandfather Donald Rabson when he parachuted into Normandy 70 years earlier.

Private Rabson, aged 23 from Crawley, said:

It was a very emotional experience to think I was jumping into the same area that my grandfather did in 1944, although his jump was into hostile territory at night.

He died last year and didn’t talk much about the war, but what he did say inspired me to become a paratrooper and I know he was proud that I followed in his footsteps.

British, Canadian, French and American paratroopers
British, Canadian, French and American paratroopers in the sky over Ranville [Picture: Corporal Barry Lloyd RLC, Crown copyright]

The parachute descent was part of a series of events to mark the contribution of Airborne Forces to the invasion of Normandy.

The day began with commemorations at Pegasus Bridge, which was captured in a daring glider operation by members of 2nd Battalion The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

There then followed a veterans’ lunch, attended by Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.

Portsmouth

Meanwhile, across the channel, events also took place in Portsmouth to commemorate the 70-year anniversary.

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal
Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal talking to veterans [Picture: Petty Officer Airman (Photographer) Carl Osmond, Crown copyright]

Thousands of people from across the UK descended on Southsea to watch a drumhead ceremony where Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal took the salute.

As well as the ceremony, 138 Royal Marines, members of the Royal Navy and members of the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps demonstrated their amphibious skills with an assault onto the beach at Southsea.

Launched ashore by landing craft from fleet flagship HMS Bulwark and the HNLMS Johan de Witt, the marines stormed the area, fighting their way through enemy personnel and finishing their demonstration in front of the crowd.

HMS Bulwark
HMS Bulwark off Southsea at the start of the D-Day 70th anniversary commemorations [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Will Haigh, Crown copyright]

Ian Christie, 88, a former Royal Marine from Perth, Scotland, travelled down the previous day to ensure he would be at the celebrations. He said:

I am overjoyed because I really wanted to be here. It is very important that people continue to remember; when people have put their lives at risk for their country we should ensure that is marked with ceremonies like this.

I remember D-Day; I was in a tank regiment of the Royal Marines and we were in a landing craft travelling towards the shore. The back of the craft that was built up to stop water coming in was shattered so we pulled it away and used it as a ramp to get onto the shore.

We then fought like infantry after that. I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed the experience to be honest but it had to be done.

Royal Marines commandos
Offshore raiding craft delivering Royal Marines commandos onto the beach at Southsea [Picture: Petty Officer Airman (Photographer) Carl Osmond, Crown copyright]

Following a spectacular display from the RAF Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, 5 ships, including HMS Bulwark, made their way to the beaches of Normandy where a number of ceremonies and services are being held to remember those who fought for their country 70 years ago.

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If you are attending any of the D-Day 70 commemorative events, you can post your photos and stories to our Facebook wall or send them to @defencehq on Twitter.

The Red Arrows over Portsmouth
The Red Arrows flying over Portsmouth [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Will Haigh, Crown copyright]