Leaders' tributes to the fallen bring nations together
THE Queen and world leaders yesterday led the last major tribute to the world’s largest seaborne invasion.
A series of poignant ceremonies were held along the Normandy coast to remember the tens of thousands of Allied troops whose D-Day landings 60 years ago marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War.
The historic international gathering was also marked by Germany officially taking part in the commemorations for the first time, and the forging of new bonds between France and the United States, whose relationship was strained by the Iraq war.
Gerhard Schrder, the chancellor of Germany, who described his inclusion as finally lifting the shadow of war from his country, joined Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and the leaders of 21 other nations.
However, yesterday’s events were also highly significant for two other key participants. Jacques Chirac, the French president, told George Bush, his American counterpart, that France would be its "everlasting friend". In turn, President Bush, referring to the United States’ D-Day sacrifices, pledged that the US "would do it again for our friends".
In contrast to the damp, windswept conditions of the 50th anniversary ten years ago, the thousands of veterans taking part, most in their eighties, sweltered in sunshine which pushed temperatures above 25C. They were among the last survivors of 156,000 soldiers, principally American, British and Canadian, who landed on five beaches on 6 June, 1944.
Fog had delayed the arrival of Mr Chirac and Mr Bush, with the latter’s jet finally landing at an airport near Caen after two abortive attempts.
The Queen launched the day’s events by paying tribute to the "courageous and determined Allied servicemen" who had helped to free Europe.
The monarch, who herself joined the Auxiliary Transport Service during the war, told the official Canadian ceremony at Courseulles-sur-Mer, overlooking Juno beach: "The invasion of France in 1944 was one of the most dramatic military operations in history.
"It would have been difficult enough for a single nation to plan and execute such an enterprise. For a group of allies with little previous experience in co-operation, it was a major triumph."
Mr Blair was greeted with a loud cheer from a 12,000-strong crowd as he arrived at a remembrance service at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Bayeux, where 4,200 service personnel are buried.
The Prime Minister told Gordon Church, 96, an Australian veteran who landed on Gold Beach with the Royal Artillery: "On behalf of my generation, the younger one, I thank you."
The Queen attended the service with the Duke of Edinburgh, who gave a reading from the Bible. Prayers were said for peace and for those who had come to the ceremony to mourn their loved ones, before a bugler sounded the Last Post to herald the start of a minute’s silence.
Many of the veterans wept quietly.
Chancellor Schrder, the first German leader with no personal memories of the war, had written in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper: "The Allies’ victory was not a victory over Germany, it was a victory for Germany. It was a triumph over the criminal Nazi regime that had turned murder into an industrial process."
The chancellor, who was two years old in 1944, never knew his soldier father, a corporal who was killed in combat in Romania four months after D-Day.
Mr Chirac welcomed Mr Bush as he arrived at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, where nearly 9,400 soldiers are buried.
The two presidents were honoured with a 21-gun salute and stood side by side as their national anthems were played.
Mr Chirac said: "France will never forget. It will never forget those men who made the supreme sacrifice to liberate our soil, our native land, our continent, from the yoke of Nazi barbarity and its murderous folly.
"Nor will it ever forget its debt to America, its everlasting friend, and to its Allies, all of them, thanks to whom Europe, reunited at last, now lives in peace, freedom and democracy.
"This friendship remains intact to this day - confident, demanding, founded in mutual respect. America is our eternal ally, and that alliance and solidarity are all the stronger for having been forged in those terrible hours."
Mr Bush, who recalled "the immensity of the moment" that triggered the ultimate fall of the Third Reich, also tried to ease the strain in the alliance.
He said: "In the trials and that sacrifice of war, we became inseparable allies. The nations that battled across this continent would become trusted partners in the cause of peace, and our great alliance of freedom is strong, and it is still needed today.
"America honours all the liberators who fought here in the noblest of causes, and America would do it again for our friends."
Later, at the main ceremony of the day in Arromanches, involving 17 heads of state, Mr Chirac presented the Lgion d’Honneur, France’s most prestigious award, to veterans from 14 countries. They were among some 300 veterans to receive the medal over the weekend.
The two leaders, along with the Queen and President Putin and other VIPs, rose to their feet spontaneously to applaud a march-past by veterans on a clifftop overlooking Gold beach, where thousands of UK troops came ashore.
The RAF Red Arrows led a 47-aircraft fly-past of modern military jets, followed by Lancaster bomber, and Spitfire and Hurricane fighters.
Offshore, the destroyer HMS Gloucester and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel Wave Knight took part in a naval review of 12 ships.
Others joining the services included the actor Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg, who made the Oscar-winning D-Day epic, Saving Private Ryan.
In Britain, thousands of veterans took part in commemoration services, including at the D-Day stone on Southsea seafront in Portsmouth.Canon Bob White, chaplain to the Portsmouth branch of the Royal British Legion, said of those who died: "If we are to truly honour them, then we must also look forward, to learn the lessons from the past, to continue to strive for those things that they fought and died for."
A packed National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, where 40,000 trees have been planted to mark those killed in conflict, showed events in France on a large screen.
Some 2,500 Allied soldiers were killed on D-Day and a further 7,500 injured. German casualties are estimated at up to 9,000.
Other troops participating in the Normandy landings came from France Belgium, Norway, Poland, Luxembourg, Greece, Czechoslovakia, New Zealand and Australia.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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