France prepares for D-Day anniversary as King Charles pays poignant tribute

Royal family and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak led commemorations in event at Portsmouth, a major staging post of the war

Britain's King Charles meets D-Day and Normandy veterans after a commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of the battle. AP
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The UK paid tribute to almost 160,000 British Commonwealth and Allied troops who took part in D-Day, the operation to drive out the forces of Nazi Germany, during a ceremony on Wednesday.

King Charles III, Queen Camilla, the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak led commemorations in Portsmouth, a major staging post for the key Second World War battle and the main departure point for the 5,000 ships that sailed to Normandy for the operation.

“Today we come together to honour those nearly 160,000 British Commonwealth and Allied troops who, on June 5 1944, assembled here and along these shores to embark on the mission which would strike that blow for freedom and be recorded as the greatest amphibious operation in history,” King Charles said.

“So, as we give thanks for all those who gave so much to win the victory, whose fruits we still enjoy to this day, let us once again commit ourselves always to remember, cherish and honour those who served that day and to live up to the freedom they died for.”

The commemoration began with a fly-past by Dakota aircraft before host Dame Helen Mirren took to the stage to narrate a history of how D-Day unfolded and affected those who took part.

France is also hosting its own D-Day celebrations, with President Emmanuel Macron travelling on Wednesday to the western region of Brittany to pay tribute to French citizens who resisted German occupation during the Second World War.

“Let us live up to our legacy of bravery,” Mr Macron said in a speech.

On Wednesday Anne, the Princess Royal, paid tribute to British D-Day veterans as she met former servicemen gathered in Normandy.

She joined veterans and their families at the Royal British Legion’s poignant service of commemoration at Bayeux War Cemetery, where the congregation was surrounded by the graves of more than 4,000 soldiers.

An international ceremony is scheduled for Thursday at Omaha Beach in Normandy, which will be attended by more than 30 heads of state including Mr Sunak, Prince William, US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Russia has not been invited because of the continuing war in Ukraine.

The Portsmouth ceremony featured veterans reading dramatic accounts of the invasion, including an emotional letter written to a wife by a soldier who was killed the day after D-Day.

“We will always remember those who served and those who waved them off,” said Prince William.

“The mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who watched their loved ones go into battle, unsure if they would ever return.”

Mr Sunak read the message from Gen Bernard Montgomery, commander of the Allied forces on D-Day, which was delivered to all troops before the invasion.

The event ended with a gun salute from the frigate HMS St Albans, which sailed past in the Solent, and a rendition of the national anthem before a fly-past by the Red Arrows and Typhoon jets.

Across the water in France, where the main ceremonies will take place on Thursday, thousands of tourists assembled on D-Day beaches and at Second World War cemeteries.

Veterans and world leaders gather to mark 80th anniversary of D-Day – in pictures

Collectors drove army jeeps, and US, Canadian, British and French flags adorned buildings.

“It's very important not to forget this sacrifice,” British tourist Daniel Reeves, 27, said as he visited the US war cemetery in Colleville-Sur-Mer this week.

It's “absolutely amazing and extremely emotional, especially when you see them, the veterans, and they say: 'Thank you, my friend',” said British visitor Karen Swinger.

Updated: June 05, 2024, 8:41 PM