Monday 21 October 2019

Leaders and veterans mark 75 years since D-Day bravery

Home the hero: US World War II paratrooper veteran Tom Rice (97), who served with the 101st Airbone, in a parachute jump over the Normandy coast for the 75th D-Day anniversary. Photo: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol
Home the hero: US World War II paratrooper veteran Tom Rice (97), who served with the 101st Airbone, in a parachute jump over the Normandy coast for the 75th D-Day anniversary. Photo: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

Ella Rouse

Queen Elizabeth II and world leaders including US President Donald Trump gathered yesterday on the south coast of England to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

At great human cost, the day turned the tide of World War II and helped liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.

Reflecting: A parachute descent takes place over Sannerville, France, during events to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Reflecting: A parachute descent takes place over Sannerville, France, during events to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Mixing history lesson, entertainment and solemn remembrance, the ceremony was a large-scale spectacle involving troops, dancers and martial bands, culminating in a military fly-past.

But the stars of the show were the elderly veterans of that campaign who said they were surprised by all the attention: they were just doing their jobs.

"I was just a small part in a very big machine," said 99-year-old John Jenkins, a veteran from Portsmouth, who received a standing ovation as he addressed the event.

"You never forget your comrades because we were all in it together," he said.

"It is right that the courage and sacrifice of so many is being honoured 75 years on. We must never forget."

Mr Jenkins was among 300 WWII veterans, aged 91 to 101, who attended the ceremony in Portsmouth, the English port city from where many of the troops embarked for Normandy on June 5, 1944.

The 93-year-old queen, who served as an army mechanic during the war, noted that when she attended a 60th-anniversary commemoration 15 years ago, many thought it might be the last time she attended such and event.

"But the wartime generation - my generation - is resilient," she said.

"The heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten," the monarch said.

"It is with humility and pleasure, on behalf of the entire country - indeed the whole free world - that I say to you all, thank you."

The event, which kicked off two days of D-Day anniversary observances, paid tribute to the troops who shaped history during the dangerous mission to reach beachheads and fight in German-occupied France.

D-Day saw more than 150,000 Allied troops land on the beaches of Normandy in north-west France on June 6, 1944, carried by 7,000 boats.

The Battle of Normandy, codenamed Operation Overlord, was a turning point in the war, and helped bring about Nazi Germany's defeat in May 1945.

Yesterday's ceremony brought together presidents, prime ministers and other representatives of the countries that fought alongside Britain in Normandy: The United States, Canada, Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.

The leader of the country that was the enemy in 1944, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also attended - a symbol of Europe's postwar reconciliation and transformation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who attended 70th anniversary commemorations in France five years ago, was not invited.

Mr Trump read a prayer that President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered in a radio address on June 6, 1944, extolling the "mighty endeavour" Allied troops were engaged in.

British Prime Minister Theresa May read a letter written by Capt. Norman Skinner of the Royal Army Service Corps to his wife, Gladys, on June 3, 1944, a few days before the invasion. He was killed the day after D-Day.

"I can imagine you in the garden having tea with Janey and Anne getting ready to put them to bed," wrote Skinnery.

"Although I would give anything to be back with you, I have not yet had any wish at all to back down from the job we have to do."

French President Emmanuel Macron read from a letter sent by a young resistance fighter, Henri Fertet, who died at 16.

"I am going to die for my country. I want France to be free and the French to be happy," it said.

Today the focus shifts to France, where ceremonies will be held at military cemeteries near the beaches.

 

Ultimate sacrifice: 10 Irishmen killed every day after landings

AN average of 10 Irishmen a day were killed in June 1944 as Allied forces landed in Normandy on D-Day and battled to establish a bridgehead in Nazi-occupied France.

A new book by an Irish military historian has revealed the price Ireland paid as part of British, US, Canadian and Australian forces to liberate occupied Europe in World War II.

While Ireland remained neutral, there is now greater appreciation of the role Irish soldiers played in the epic battle while fighting in various Allied armies.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Dan Harvey’s new book ‘A Bloody Dawn’ represents one of the most extensively researched histories of the Irish involvement in D-Day.

“In the month of June [1944], at least 301 Irishmen were killed with British and Canadian forces alone in the war against the Third Reich – 10 per day,” it reveals.

“[This was] even though most of the Irish regiments of foot, the Irish Guards, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Fusiliers, were not seriously in action during that time.”

The book has revealed that one in 10 SAS soldiers was Irish – with Irish-born soldiers six times more likely to attempt to join the elite unit than any of their British equivalents.

Irish Independent

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