King Charles and Rishi Sunak to join veterans for 80th anniversary of D-day

Rishi Sunak’s election campaigning and King Charles’s convalescence from cancer will be put on hold for 48 hours, as the two men join veterans to mark the 80th anniversary of D-day on the south coast of England and in Normandy.

Two days of events at the ports where allied troops embarked for their perilous journey, and on the French beaches from where they began the liberation of Europe in 1944, will begin on Wednesday at 11am on Southsea common on Portsmouth’s sea front.

The king, who has made only a few public appearances since his cancer diagnosis in February, and the prime minister will join hundreds of local schoolchildren for what is billed as a spectacular cultural commemoration that will be broadcast live on BBC One.

Dame Helen Mirren will narrate the ceremony and the prime minister, who is taking a break from campaigning for the 4 July general election, will deliver a reading.

D-day veterans in the map room during an event hosted by the Spirit of Normandy Trust and D-Day Revisited at Southwick House, the nerve centre of D-day operations 80 years ago, near Portsmouth, Hampshire. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

The king has also taken part in a BBC film to be broadcast on 5 June, in which he is seen alongside the Queen meeting veterans and reading aloud from his grandfather’s wartime diary.

“My grandfather was so determined to go. He got very frustrated because they wouldn’t let him go until several days later,” Charles told the veterans, including Jim Miller, 100, who landed on Juno beach as part of the 11th Hussars regiment.

Reading from George VI’s 6 June diary, labelled D-day, the king said: “This was my grandfather’s diary. That was his D-day entry. ‘The news was given out at 8am that the invasion of the continent of Europe had started last night. The airborne troops had made successful landings in the night and had captured their objectives.’”

(Left to right) Cpl Aaron Stone with veterans John Life and Donald Jones return to Sword beach in Normandy, France, where they landed on D-day.  Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA

A flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was due to take place on Wednesday but was cancelled after the Spitfire crash that killed RAF Sqn Ldr Mark Long.

Veterans’ testimonies of the “longest day” will be shown on large screens on Southsea common and after musical performances from military bands – including the Royal Marines Band Service and the Corps of Drums and the bands of the Household Division, wearing their red tunics and bearskin caps – there will be a flypast by the Red Arrows, officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team.

The Red Arrows will fly in a precision formation trailing the team’s trademark red, white and blue colours. An aircraft from the RAF Typhoon Display Team will accompany them.

Enthusiasts wearing replica WWII-era attire pose for photos in a re-enactment camp in Sainte-Mère-Église, north-western France, as part of the D-day commemorations. Photograph: Loïc Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Visible from the proceedings on land, the frigate HMS St Albans will be at the heart of the commemorations in Portsmouth before sailing across the Channel overnight on 5 June, recreating the voyage of the soldiers eight decades ago. The warship will reappear at anchor off the beaches of Normandy as the commemorations continue in France.

The focus of the commemorations will move to Normandy on Wednesday afternoon, where hundreds of allied Armed Forces personnel will parachute into a D-day “drop zone” to honour the success of the airborne invasion.

On Tuesday, 22 veterans departed from Portsmouth on a ferry to relive the journey they took as part of the largest amphibious invasion force in history.

Cdr Glenn Hinson presents a wreath to veterans Alec Penstone, right, and Harry Birdsall as part of a service in memory of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who did not make it ashore, aboard the ferry Mont St-Michel, off the coast of Normandy, France. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AP

A further 21 D-day veterans have registered to attend a Royal British Legion service at the National Memorial Arboretum and a handful of others are travelling independently to France.

With the surviving veterans all in their late 90s or older, the numbers able to travel to France are dwindling. In 2019, the Royal British Legion helped 255 veterans travel to commemorate the 75th anniversary.

On Tuesday, Harry Birdsall, 98, from Wakefield, and 99-year-old Alec Penstone laid a wreath at sea before saluting to the Last Post.

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Arnie Salter, 98, from Bedworth, Warwickshire, said: “I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings, I’m glad to go, it brings back memories but I’m also sad; we lost a hell of a lot of good men.”

D-day veteran Arnie Salter, 98, from Warwickshire, with other veterans on board Mont St-Michel as it sails from Portsmouth to Ouistreham, France. Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA

The Royal British Legion will host a service of commemoration at Bayeux war cemetery on Wednesday afternoon, before a joint UK-France service of thanksgiving at Bayeux Cathedral.

As the sun sets over Normandy on the eve of D-day, the Bayeux cemetery will be illuminated in a light show that will be broadcast live on BBC One.

The commemorations on Thursday 6 June, will begin at 7.25am – the precise moment the beach invasion began in 1944.

Veteran Donald Jones is comforted by a member of the Royal British Legion as he returns to Sword beach in Normandy, France, where he landed on D-day. Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA

A military piper will land on the beaches of Arromanches-les-Bains in a Royal Marines landing craft and play a lament in tribute to those who led the beach landings.

Later that morning, the official British commemoration will take place at the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer, where the king will join Sunak and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, for the first major event at the venue, which was opened in 2021.

The prime minister will deliver a short speech and lead a “heroes welcome” for the veterans. Sir Tom Jones will lead musical performances, while Prince William will attend the national commemorative event in Portsmouth and events hosted by Canada and France in Normandy.

An international event on Omaha beach will be attended on Thursday afternoon by the US president, Joe Biden, and Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. No Russian representative has been invited.

A woman walks past a war memorial on 4 June 2024, in Bordeaux, south-western France. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Fourteen nations are recognised as having contributed to the success of the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, the UK and the US.

Of those, 15 nations, including what is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Germany will be represented at the national commemorative events in Portsmouth and Normandy.

Of the 156,115 allied troops who landed in Normandy by sea and air on 6 June, 4,300 British and Canadians were wounded, killed or went missing in action, along with 6,000 Americans.

The Guardian

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