News story

UK military honour D-Day 70

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

Military personnel have supported veterans commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy.

Last Friday, 6 June, more than 1,700 personnel from the Royal Navy, British Army and the Royal Air Force supported over 650 veterans as they marked the anniversary in Normandy.

The day began with a Royal British Legion service of remembrance at Bayeux Cathedral. During the service His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales took part in the inauguration of a new bell for the cathedral. The Thérèse-Bénédicte bell was created for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and symbolises peace, liberty and reconciliation.

Bayeux Cathedral service
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales alongside senior royal and political figures at Bayeux Cathedral [Picture: Crown copyright]

Among those who struck the bell during its inauguration was Mr James Aitken, an 89-year-old D-Day veteran, and his grandson Staff Sergeant Stephen Marshall, who is a serving member of the UK armed forces.

Mr Aitken said:

I feel very honoured to inaugurate this bell, dedicated to peace and freedom, what we were all fighting for 70 years ago. It is an occasion I will never forget, and it means a great deal that my grandson, who is now a soldier himself, is with me.

Later that morning, a service of commemoration took place at Bayeux War Cemetery.

Her Majesty The Queen lays a wreath at Bayeux War Cemetery
Her Majesty The Queen lays a wreath at Bayeux War Cemetery [Picture: Corporal Neil Bryden RAF, Crown copyright]

At the service wreaths were laid on behalf of the United Kingdom, France, the Normandy Veterans Association, the Royal British Legion and Commonwealth nations whose fallen are buried in the cemetery.

Ahead of the service, a Lancaster, 2 Spitfires and a Dakota of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flew overhead in salute.

Speaking at the cemetery, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:

It is a tribute to their enduring courage and spirit that more than 600 veterans have made the pilgrimage to France for this historic anniversary. It is an honour for me, and for our serving armed forces personnel who are here today, to be able to share this moment with them.

A service on Sword Beach to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day
A service on Sword Beach to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day [Picture: Paul Shaw, Crown copyright]

The afternoon saw UK veterans attend a ‘peace and reconciliation’ international event at Sword Beach, Ouistreham, one of the British invasion beaches. Leaders of all Allied nations who took part in D-Day, including Her Majesty The Queen, US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were in attendance.

The day finished with events on Gold Beach, Arromanches-les-Bains, that included a flypast consisting of a Lancaster, 2 Spitfires and a Dakota of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and a special veterans’ tea party in a nearby town that was attended by Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The Duke of Cambridge chats with a D-Day veteran
His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge chats with a D-Day veteran [Picture: Senior Aircraftwoman Helen Farrer, Crown copyright]

The Ministry of Defence, the Royal British Legion, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission worked closely with the Normandy Veterans Association to ensure the success of the events for D-Day 70, and that veterans received a fitting commemoration.

Vice Admiral Peter Wilkinson, National President of the Royal British Legion, said:

We hope that today’s events will reassure the returning D-Day veterans of the nation’s, and indeed the world’s, profound gratitude for what they did here.