By Kunle Adedoyin
Queen Elizabeth II, US President Donald Trump and some other world leaders joined hundreds of World War 2 veterans on the south coast of England on Wednesday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, one of the heroic turning points of World War II.
The event in Portsmouth, southern England, to commemorate the Allied invasion of the Normandy beaches in France — one of the turning points of World War II, attracted more than a dozen other world leaders.
The Allied troops cross-Channel invasion of the Normandy beaches remains the largest amphibious assault in history with Portsmouth, the main staging point for 156,000 US, British, Canadian and other Allied troops who sailed for northern France. The Battle of Normandy on June 6, 1944, which left 4,400 troops dead on the first day, led to the liberation of Europe and helped bring about the end of World War II the following year.
At the commemorative event, which had sombre recitals of soldiers’ last letters home mixed with festive period song-and-dance numbers, the leaders ranging from Trump to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had turns honouring one of history’s most hallowed days.
With some in the audience shedding tears and a few of the surviving veterans, now all in their 90s, sitting upright in the front rows, Trump read excerpts from the prayer President Franklin Roosevelt delivered by radio on D-Day.
“They will need Thy blessings for the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces but we shall return again and again,” Trump read, in what will be one of his last acts on a three-day state visit to Britain.
The hour-long ceremony included theatrical productions and news reel footage watched by presidents and prime ministers from across Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
“When I attended the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, some thought it might be the last such event,” Britain’s 93-year-old queen said.
“But the wartime generation — my generation — is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today.”
The gathered drew silent when a recording of the stirring battle cry Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered in the UK parliament as Nazi forces advanced across Europe in June 1940 piped in.
“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,” Churchill said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May read a letter written by Captain Norman Skinner to his wife Gladys on June 3, 1944, which was found the day before his death in Normandy on June 7.
“I am sure that anyone with imagination must dislike the thought of what’s coming,” his letter said.
“But my fears will be more of being afraid than of what can happen to me.”
Macron read the last letter of French resistance fighter Henri Fertet, who was executed when he was just 16.
“The soldiers are coming to get me. I must hurry,” it said.
“I am not afraid of death, my conscience is completely clear.”
The D-Day commemorations are among May’s last official duties before she steps down as leader of the governing Conservatives on Friday.
Speaking ahead of the momentous event, The Queen said: “I am sure that these commemorations will provide an opportunity to honour those who made extraordinary sacrifices to secure freedom in Europe. They must never be forgotten.”
More than 200 veterans also boarded a cruise ship on Sunday night charted by the Royal British Legion to attend the events, while others are travelling to Portsmouth and the French region of Normandy.
The British Prime Minister has waved off the Royal British Legion’s cruise ship MV Boudicca from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth as it carries 250 Second World War heroes to Normandy.
Theresa May was joined by defence secretary Penny Mordaunt and First Sea Lord Sir Philip Jones on the deck of the Royal Navy’s largest warship as the ship’s company held a guard of honour for the veterans.
Well-wishers lined the seafront and a flotilla of small boats took to the waters to see off the Boudicca as it sailed out of Portsmouth harbour.
The cruise ship was also escorted by the Type-23 frigate HMS St Albans, a Canadian warship and four Royal Navy P200 patrol vessels.
A total of 11 Royal navy warships lined its route out to the Solent as it headed to France for the commemorations on D-Day on Thursday last week in Bayeux and Arromanches.
A Spitfire from Battle of Britain Memorial Flight also flew overhead and circled the Boudicca three times.
The ship returns to Portsmouth on Saturday before concluding its journey in Dover on Sunday.
Earlier, tens of thousands of people lined the seafront to watch a display by the Red Arrows following the national commemoration event on Southsea Common.
Th President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to 71 French Resistance fighters shot dead by the Gestapo on the day Allied forces landed in Normandy but whose bodies were never recovered.
A few hours after attending a ceremony in Portsmouth he silently listened to the names of the victims of the Caen prison massacre being read out.
Veterans Harry Read, 95, and John “Jock” Hutton, 94, have parachuted into Sannerville, Normandy.
They did so 75 years since they descended as paratroopers on D-Day.
The pair jumped out of a Cessna aircraft in tandem.
They were followed by a giant Union Flag to roaring cheers from the large crowd which had gathered by the field.
Read, a WW2 veteran, said he believes today’s parachute jump will be his last.
“I feel good. My health is good and my mind is still ticking away very nicely.
“I thought the jump was brilliant. I just had thoughts of anticipation after looking forward to it. Everything is worth the wait.
“The jump was wonderful in every way. I couldn’t believe the drop was going to be postponed in any way because I had his assurance from God.
“If that had happened, I was going to be examining my faith. I don’t think I’ll do another jump again.
“I don’t think I’ll do another jump again,” he said.
Harry Read embraced his son and daughter after the parachute drop in Sannerville.
Both he and John Hutton, another veteran, made a thumbs-up signal as they smiled for the crowds who greeted them.
The pair arrived hours later than expected after the plans became fraught with technical difficulties.
These then delayed the clearance they needed to enter French airspace.
John Hutton said it was “great to be back on French soil”.
“It’s such a relief to get the 75th out of the way.”
However, the former paratrooper said he was concerned the jump would not go ahead and added:
“We were looking out of the window all the mist was coming in. All this bloody way and we’re not going to get out of the aircraft!”
Hutton, who thinks “he should have more sense at 94”, also said the landing was not as smooth as he had hoped.
He joked about a sore backside after he “landed on a bunch of boulders”.
Reflecting on his jump in 1944, Hutton said: “I enjoyed the fall, I had done a lot of free falling. But [the French] thought that we were German soldiers on exercise.”
Tom Rice, a 97-year-old US veteran, was also among those who parachuted into Normandy today.
Margaret Brotheridge, 75, from Honiton, Devon, the daughter of the first British soldier to be killed in action on D-Day, said she also thinks of all the others who died as she commemorates the anniversary.
Ms Brotheridge was less than a year old when her father Herbert Denham Brotheridge, known as Den, was killed.
He was part of the British forces capturing Pegasus Bridge in Normandy, France.
Visiting the bridge where he was shot to mark the 75th anniversary of his death, Ms Brotheridge said it was a “great pleasure” to be with others at the commemorative events in France, to “celebrate the freedom”.
“People know who I am and who my father was but all the other people who died it’s just the same, it’s just that people want a first, don’t they?
“So when I come here I think of all the other people that are here, that died.
“So I tend to be a bit quiet about it, because I’m no different to anybody else who has lost somebody,” she said.
Canadian World War II veterans also joined current members of the country’s armed forces at a military cemetery in France.
Soldiers marched to music as 33 of their elders looked on at the Canadian War Cemetery in Beny-sur-Mer on Wednesday.
The cemetery has 2,049 headstones for the Canadians who landed at Juno Beach in German-occupied France on June 6, 1944, as well as graves of 15 airmen.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called it a “gift of history” she is able to participate in the ceremony in Portsmouth commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Merkel told reporters on Wednesday “this unique military operation eventually brought us the liberation from the Nazis”.
The 16 countries represented at the event have signed a proclamation promising to work together to ensure the “unimaginable horror” of the Second World War is not repeated.
Prime Minister Theresa May said: “I’m delighted that the 16 countries present at today’s D-Day commemorations in Portsmouth have agreed a historic proclamation which affirms our shared responsibility to ensure that the horror of the Second World War is never repeated.
“Through this statement, leaders have recommitted to the values of democracy, tolerance and the rule of law that have underpinned the stability and prosperity of our nations and our citizens for the past 75 years.”
The document will now be donated to the Imperial War Museum.