On behalf of the free world... I thank you
THE Queen thanked the heroes of D-Day on behalf of the free world yesterday at a moving international ceremony attended by leaders marking the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings.
Some 300 veterans joined the 93-year-old monarch, Prince Charles, Theresa May, US President Donald Trump and the leaders of 13 other Allied nations involved in Operation Overlord at the ceremony in Portsmouth before sailing to France last night for today’s commemorations of the day that changed history – June 6, 1944.
The 15 leaders, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was also at the ceremony, later signed the D-Day proclamation, committing to work together to resolve international tensions peacefully to ensure the “unimaginable horror” of the Second World War is never repeated.
Standing in the royal box at the ceremony on Southsea Common overlooking one of the main embarkation points for the landings, the Queen paid tribute (right) to the wartime generation.
She told guests and thousands watching on big screens: “When I attended the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, some thought it might be the last such event. But the wartime generation – my generation – is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today.”
Some of the leaders of the modern free world, including Mrs May, President Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, went on stage to take part in a 70-minute performance telling the story of the events that led to D-Day. President Trump, at the end of his three-day state visit to Britain, read the prayer that his predecessor President Franklin D Roosevelt broadcast to his nation on the evening of D-Day: “Almighty God: our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavour, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilisation, and to set free a suffering humanity...”
Veterans and relatives wiped away tears as Mrs May read a letter from Captain Norman Skinner written to his wife Gladys on June 3, 1944. It was in his pocket when he was killed the following day.
On a giant screen, veterans recalled their memories and on stage John Jenkins, a 99-year-old former sergeant in the Pioneer Corps, described landing on Gold Beach aged 23. Mr Jenkins, who still works as a matchday steward at Portsmouth’s home games at Fratton Park, said: “I was terrified – I think everyone was. You never forget your comrades because we were all in it together.”
After the ceremony, which ended with a flypast of Second World War and modern planes, the Queen, Charles, President Trump and his First Lady Melania – aptly sporting an ivory coat by New York label The Row, a hat by British milliner Philip Treacy, and heels by French brand Dior – met six veterans.
Accompanied by old newsreels and newspapers and 1940s music, the politicians, actors, current service personnel and compere Celia Imrie narrated the story of the war up to D-Day, with at one point Winston Churchill booming out, vowing to fight on the beaches...
Mr Trudeau, whose grandfather James Sinclair was a squadron leader in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war, read the VC citation of Lt-Colonel Cecil Merritt, the first Canadian given it, for his part in the 1942 Dieppe Raid.
After a tribute to the women agents of the Special Operations Executive parachuted behind enemy lines, President Macron read the last letter to his parents from 16-year-old French Resistance fighter Henri Fertet, executed on September 23, 1943: “The soldiers are coming to get me. I must hurry. My handwriting may look wobbly but it is just because I am using a small pencil. I am not afraid of death...”
The president said: “Let me thank you sincerely on behalf of my nation.”
For possibly the first time, someone dropped the F bomb in front of the Queen – in an extract from the play Pressure in which General Eisenhower expressed frustration with experts advising him to delay D-Day because of bad weather.
A few rows behind the world leaders sat Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“We must not just commemorate those who fought and died, but honour them by opposing the forces of hatred today,” he said.
“Only by standing up to hate, oppression and war can we protect international cooperation and peace.”
The Queen, stands with world leaders in tribute to veterans and below, John Jenkins, circled, has a giant image of him in his Army days projected