Thursday 18 January 2018

French President Hollande's plea to fight for peace on D-Day

French President Francois Hollande reads a speech during an International Ceremony at Sword Beach in Normandy to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings
French President Francois Hollande reads a speech during an International Ceremony at Sword Beach in Normandy to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings

Tony Jones and Tom Pugh

French President Francois Hollande has issued a rallying cry to the world calling on nations to fight against threats to peace just as the D-Day troops did 70 years ago.

In a moving address delivered on the very Normandy beach stormed by British troops on June 6, 1944, Mr Hollande said people needed the same courage as the Allied forces who fought and died to end Nazi tyranny.

France's head of state spoke during an international ceremony staged to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings - the largest amphibious assault in history,

To loud applause from an audience of veterans and heads of state - including the Queen - Mr Hollande also said he wanted to see the beaches of Normandy become a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Mr Hollande said it was the world's duty to fight extremism and fundamentalism adding: "It's up to us to have the same vision, the same courage, to be just as bright and have the same determination as those who came to these beaches 70 years ago."

He said the threats to cohesion today ranged from terrorism to global warming and mass unemployment and that they could cause conflict.

Archive black and white movie footage and performers were used to tell the the story of the atrocities of the Nazi regime and the exploits of the Allied troops whose invasion of mainland Europe would eventually lead to the downfall of Hitler's regime.

The spectacle was the high point of many commemoration events which have seen thousands flock to beaches, cemeteries and villages linked to the Normandy landings .

It is likely to be the last major tribute to the sacrifices made by the hundreds of elderly veterans who were in the stands watching, and their comrades who died fighting.

Among the heads of state who attended were US President Barack Obama, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, King Harald V of Norway and President Milos Zeman of the Czech Republic.

Mr Hollande hosted the event and sat with the Queen on his right. Further along the row was Grerman Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr Hollande, whose French speech was translated by an interpreter, called on the United Nations to fulfil its duty and "intervene wherever necessary for collective security".

He spoke from Ouistreham's Sword Beach, the codename for the easternmost of the five beaches targeted on D-Day, and assaulted by the 3rd British Infantry Division.

He took the audience back to the battlefield horrors of 70 years ago: "Before this very beach, this beautiful beach, thousands of young soldiers jumped in the water... to run towards deadly German fire."

He described how the soldiers were young men but "for them 20 was the age of duty, the age of commitment the age of sacrifice".

He added: "They surely had in mind their loving mother, worried father - their childhood was so close in their life.

"However these young men, in the middle of this hell of fire and steel, didn't hesitate. They moved forward, defied bullets and shells. Moved forward, risking their lives in order to shatter a diabolical regime."

The French president praised the fighting courage of individual nations, from his country's own small group which was part of the Allied invasion force that stormed the beaches, to the Americans who suffered heavy casualties on Omaha Beach.

He also paid homage to all those who were victims of Nazi rule.

The Queen appeared in some of the black-and-white footage which was shown as, during the Second World War, she served as a Second Subaltern with the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service and trained as a mechanic and military truck driver. She was featured leaning over the engine of the vehicle, working on it.

The large group of performers staged a drama in four acts which documented occupied Europe, D-Day, the long road to victory and post-war peace.

There had been speculation that a potentially awkward encounter might occur between Charles and Mr Putin, following the prince's recent remarks about the Russian president.

He reportedly criticised Mr Putin to a woman during a tour last month to Canada, comparing him with Adolf Hitler after she told him how she fled Nazi persecution.

But the two men did not meet in the large VIP stand on the beach as the heir to the throne arrived after the Russian leader and, in what might be seen as a conciliatory move, Mr Putin lightly applauded as the Prince walked up to meet Mr Hollande.

There were huge cheers for Mr Obama when he first arrived and the Queen received an even bigger response from the spectators.

Images were shown of the American and Russian leaders on a large screen side by side and for a split second the two men - who were sat apart - appeared to be stare at each other when they looked in each other's direction.

Mr Obama was also photographed sharing a laugh with Queen Maxima who was with her husband King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

And the president had a brief chat with Charles and Camilla that left everyone amused, when they first met at the start of the ceremony. The event ended with a display by military jets which streamed smoke through the air.

Earlier the Queen paid her own tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for "freedom in Europe'' laying a wreath in a military grave - the last resting place of many British D-Day troops.

She left her floral tribute during a solemn open air ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in Bayeux, the first town to be liberated following the Normandy landings.

Charles also laid a wreath as did Prime Minister David Cameron and other world leaders.

The US president marked the contribution of his nation's forces to D-Day when he paid tribute to their sacrifices at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, where nearly 10,000 servicemen are buried.

Mr Obama said the American commitment to liberty, which is ''written in blood'' on the beaches of Normandy, endures with a new generation.

And he told D-Day veterans gathered above Omaha beach that their legacy was in good hands.

Press Association

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