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Friday 23 August 2019

'An eternal debt of gratitude to heroes'

A Normandy veteran reacts after laying a wreath. Photos: PA Wire, Getty Images
A Normandy veteran reacts after laying a wreath. Photos: PA Wire, Getty Images
Harry Billinge (93). Photos: PA Wire, Getty Images
Thankful: French World War II veteran Commando Kieffer Leon Gautier speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a D-Day ceremony in Colleville-Montgomery, Normandy. Photo: Francois Mori/AFP/Getty
Veteran David Edwards gets a kiss on the cheek. Photos: PA Wire, Getty Images
US First Lady Melania Trump, US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and wife Brigitte Macron watch a fly-past. Photos: PA Wire, Getty Images
Veteran John Sleep (98) holding a cross at the War Graves Commission Cemetery in Bayeux. Photos: PA Wire, Getty Images

Flora Thompson in Arromanches, Normandy

Thousands of visitors descended on a small Normandy seaside town to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Officials said it was an unprecedented turnout at Arromanches yesterday and larger than other anniversaries.

Some 300, largely British, veterans drifted into the town throughout the day with many arriving yesterday afternoon after attending other services in the area.

The day began at 7.25am local time with the tradition of a lone piper playing a lament on the remaining Mulberry harbour in the town called Port Winston.

This signals the minute the invasion began and the moment the first British soldier landed on Gold beach.

Standing atop the structure, Pipe Major Trevor Macey-Lillie, of 19th Regiment Royal Artillery (the Scottish Gunners), performed 'Highland Laddie' as crowds gathered on the beach below him and lined the promenade, applauding his performance.

Afterwards he said: "That was nerve-wracking to do but I feel very proud and it was a privilege to do it."

Throughout the day, members of the public queued up to thank D-Day veterans for their service during World War II.

Sid Barnes (93), from Norfolk, served in the Royal Army Service Corps and landed on the beach by Arromanches on June 6, 1944.

He returns every year to the town and attends commemoration events.

This year visitors were coming up to him to shake his hand, with one man saying: "Without you and everything you and the other veterans did, we would not be here."

He said: "People are coming up to us to say thank you. But I think 'thank you for what?'

"We just did what we knew we must do. It is nice to know we are valued though."

He was enjoying the sunshine on the promenade with other veterans, including Charles Burton (94) who came over to Normandy as part of a wave of troops on the second day, June 7, with the Royal Ulster Rifles.

Mr Burton said: "It's nice to take part to be here but it's very difficult as you remember the others who died."

Crowds flocked to the square for the main event of the day, a service of remembrance, where veterans laid wreaths and a minute's silence took place after an exhortation was read by a Normandy veteran before a wreath-laying and speeches from dignitaries.

The event was attended by Tobias Ellwood, the UK minister for defence people and veterans, and there was also an impromptu visit from UK defence secretary Penny Mordaunt, who talked to veterans afterwards and walked along Arromanches beach speaking to people.

Later, the veterans were treated to a fly-past from the Red Arrows after singing along to a rendition of 'We'll Meet Again' with the RAF Regiment Band while linking arms together.

Lewis Trinder read the exhortation. The 95-year-old, who lives in Aldershot, England, was stationed on HMS Magpie anchoring off Gold beach at 2.30am on June 6, 1944, where they stayed for three days as a support vessel ready to step in if the invasion was not going to plan.

Mr Trinder, who has visited Normandy annually for at least 20 years, said: "I have read the exhortation so many times and this year I really tried to make sure the passion came across.

"If you come to Arromanches, everybody knows you.

"This is like a second home to me. I've got more friends here than anywhere else in the world."

Veteran Len Fox was offered the chance to sing a duet during 'We'll Meet Again'.

The 94-year-old, who lives in Norwich, landed in the town on D-Day with the 53rd Welsh Division as a dispatch rider.

He said: "Being here for the anniversary is my way of paying back a little to my comrades who didn't make it.

"I wasn't a hero, I was a frightened 19-year-old. They were the brave heroes.

"I think it has been a wonderful day and I loved singing in the service - it was very moving."

Mr Fox also laid a wreath with his granddaughter Sally Brooks.

Harry Billinge (93) travelled from his home in St Austell, Cornwall, to take part in the commemorations for the last time. He has handed more than £10,000 (€11,250) to the Normandy Memorial Trust by relentlessly collecting donations in his local high street and the French town of Arromanches.

As an 18-year-old Royal Engineer, he landed on Gold beach at 6.30am on June 6, 1944, as part of the first wave of troops.

Irish Independent

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