UK

King pays tribute to courage of veterans to mark 80th anniversary of D-Day

Charles spoke at a major event in Portsmouth on Wednesday.

The King has paid tribute to the ‘courage, resilience and solidarity’ of veterans as part of commemorations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day
The King has paid tribute to the ‘courage, resilience and solidarity’ of veterans as part of commemorations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The King has paid tribute to the “courage, resilience and solidarity” of veterans as part of commemorations for the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

Charles joined the Prince of Wales, leading UK politicians and veterans at a major event in Portsmouth on Wednesday.

He told the crowd: “The stories of courage, resilience and solidarity we have heard today and throughout our lives cannot fail to move us, to inspire us and to remind us of what we owe to that great wartime generation.

The King and Queen at the UK’s national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, hosted by the Ministry of Defence on Southsea Common in Portsmouth
The King and Queen at the UK’s national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, hosted by the Ministry of Defence on Southsea Common in Portsmouth (Kin Cheung/PA)

“It is our privilege to hear that testimony, but our role is not purely passive.

“It is our duty to ensure that we and future generations do not forget their service and their sacrifice in replacing tyranny with freedom.”

Charles faced breezy conditions on stage as he spoke, with his speech notes blowing around in his hand.

The King praised the “truly collective effort” of those on the Home Front during the Second World War, and said Britain today was “eternally” indebted to those who served.

In his programme notes for the event, he spoke of his “profound admiration and respect” for those who took part in D-Day, adding: “It remains our solemn duty to continue to honour the outstanding gallantry, service and sacrifice of those who took part in that perilous mission.”

At the Portsmouth commemorations, William read an extract from the diary of Captain Alastair Bannerman of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, a soldier who was part of D-Day, addressed to his wife on the morning of the landings.

He told the flag-waving crowd he was “deeply honoured” to be part of proceedings on Southsea Common and said “we will always remember those who served”.

The Prince of Wales delivered a reading at the event in Portsmouth
The Prince of Wales delivered a reading at the event in Portsmouth (Leon Neal/PA)

William wore medals during his address, including the Great Master of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath around his neck, Golden, Diamond and Platinum Jubilee medals and a coronation medal.

The Prime Minister also wrote a piece for the programme, in which he said “we must never forget how much we owe” those who took part in D-Day.

At the event, Rishi Sunak read an address by Field Marshal Montgomery, which was delivered to the troops ahead of the D-Day landings.

Dame Helen Mirren formally introduced the event at around 11am, where she praised the bravery of the veterans in attendance.

Children waved miniature Union flags as actor Phil Dunster came on stage in 1940s military garb to read a letter written by Major Rodney Maude of the Royal Engineers written 48 hours before D-Day.

Actor Phil Dunster reads a letter written by Major Rodney Maude of the Royal Engineers
Actor Phil Dunster reads a letter written by Major Rodney Maude of the Royal Engineers (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Call The Midwife star Helen George led an ensemble of singers in a rendition of Dame Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again at the national commemorative event.

Veterans in the audience were seen singing along to the lyrics as members of the crowd waved Union flags.

The song, released in 1939, has become closely associated with the Second World War and became the basis of a 1943 musical of the same name set during the Blitz in London.

Some veterans will attend two days of remembrance events in Portsmouth to mark the historic milestone.

The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in history, with the 1944 battle laying the foundation for an Allied victory.

Troops from the UK, the US, Canada and France attacked German forces on the beaches at Normandy in northern France on June 6 1944.

Allied troops departed from Portsmouth on June 5, so the UK and French governments will host memorial events at both ports to commemorate the D-Day landings.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, a D-Day veteran leading an act of remembrance saluted fallen soldiers as the Last Post was played at an emotional ceremony in Normandy.

Some 11 veterans with the Spirit of Normandy Trust joined commemorations in Colleville-Montgomery, sitting in the front row of the service with blankets on their laps.

Members of the armed forces ahead of the UK’s national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day on Southsea Common in Portsmouth
Members of the armed forces ahead of the UK’s national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day on Southsea Common in Portsmouth (Heathcliff O'Malley/The Telegraph/PA)

Royal Navy veteran Alec Penstone, who served on HMS Campania, told the PA news agency: “I’m surprised I’m still here, I didn’t expect to be. I’m very lucky.”

About the ceremony, the 99-year-old said: “I realised how many of my wonderful shipmates… died. I don’t know how I’m still spared.”

In the afternoon, tributes will move to the beaches of Normandy, where hundreds of allied defence personnel will parachute into a historic D-Day drop zone to commemorate the airborne invasion of 80 years ago.

The Royal British Legion will host a commemoration service at Bayeux War Cemetery before the Ministry of Defence and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission host a joint UK-France thanksgiving service at Bayeux Cathedral.

On Wednesday night, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Bayeux War Cemetery will light up in honour of those who fought on the beaches.

On Thursday – the 80th anniversary of D-Day – commemorations will begin in Normandy at 7.25am, the same time the beach invasion began in 1944.

(Press Association Images)

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

The official British commemoration for the 80th anniversary of D-Day will take place at the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer, where the King will join French President Emmanuel Macron and Mr Sunak.

The Prince of Wales will attend events in Normandy including a service hosted by Canada at Juno Beach and an international ceremony hosted by France at Omaha Beach which will be attended by more than 25 heads of state.

The Prime Minister will deliver a short speech at Ver-sur-Mer and lead a “heroes’ welcome” for the veterans.