They fought on the beaches of Normandy, they fought on the landing grounds in the fields, streets and hills. As Winston Churchill had promised, they did not give up.
On Sunday, the names of 22,442 soldiers under British command who died on D-Day and the subsequent Battle of Normandy were etched in stone as a permanent reminder of their sacrifice when a new British Normandy memorial was unveiled.
The ceremony on a hill in Ver-sur-Mer overlooking Gold Beach, where thousands of British and Allied soldiers stormed ashore on the morning of June 6, 1944, heard a video message from the Prince of Wales, the patron of Normandy Trust, who said they regretted that Covid had made it impossible for them to be present in France.
He said this was not a reflection of the “enormous regard and admiration we have for our veterans” or that it “diminished our gratitude for the men and women whose names are now etched in stone on Gold Beach.”
The British and French flags flying over the monument would be “a reminder of the important and enduring ties between our two countries,” said Prince Charles.
Today, 77 years later, surviving D-Day veterans were defeated in their efforts to return to France, not by war or even aging unlike their fallen comrades, but by the coronavirus.
For the second year, the former service personnel who participated in the largest maritime invasion in history that ushered in the end of Nazi Germany, were absent even as their numbers dwindled.
Three veterans living in France were present: British David Mylchreest, 97, formerly Second Lieutenant of the 43rd Wessex Division, who lives in Normandy and landed at Arromanches six days after D-Day.
“It is a great privilege to be here today. We have wonderful cemeteries in the area and this is a permanent final reminder. It is a reminder of the more than 22,000 young people who left so that we could live the kind of life we have now, ”Mylchreest said.
Also present were the American Charles Norman Shay, 96, from Connecticut, decorated for his bravery in World War II and the Korean War, who landed on Omaha Beach at the age of 17, and Léon Gaultier, 97, a Breton living in Normandy. , who landed at Sword Beach on D-Day as one of the first wave of French commandos to storm the beach and is the last surviving member of the Kieffer command of the Free French Navy.
The ceremony was attended by the Minister of the French Armies, Florence Parly, who quoted Churchill’s speech “We will fight on the beaches…”.
“Winston Churchill became the symbol of a people that would never give up,” Parly said. “We know what we owe to the soldiers of freedom. Today we pay tribute to British soldiers. France will never forget. France is eternally grateful ”.
Parly also placed a wreath at a memorial on the edge of the site for the roughly 20,000 French citizens killed during the Battle of Normandy, which lasted until the end of August 1944. Many of them died during Allied bombardments.
A French piper played during the ceremony, pausing for a minute of silence during which all that was heard was the singing of the birds.
Soon after, the Red Arrows and their French equivalent, the Patrouille de France, carried out flypasts.
On June 6, 1944, as part of Operation Overlord, more than 156,000 Allied soldiers landed by sea and air. Approximately 4,300 people were killed, injured or disappeared in action that day.
The British Normandy memorial stands on a 50-acre (20-hectare) site set within landscaped gardens on a hill above Gold Beach, where British-led troops landed. It overlooks the British landing areas on the Arromanches coast and the remnants of Mulberry Harbor.
Designed by architect Liam O’Connor, the centerpiece is a giant bronze statue of three soldiers coming ashore, created by sculptor David Williams-Ellis. It is surrounded by 160 pillars that form a rectangle engraved with the names and ages of the soldiers under British command, from more than 30 nations, who died between June 6 and August 31, 1944. An application can be downloaded Normandy Memorial Trust giving details of the stories behind each of the names of those who fell.
The site, which veterans have long called for, is designed not only as a single permanent record of the names of those who died, but also as a place of reflection on what their sacrifice meant and means today.
Peter Ricketts, president of the Normandy Memorial Trust, one of the driving forces behind the monument, said: “We wanted to make the most of this site with its fabulous view of Gold Beach. Many of those who made landfall on D-Day would have ended up on this particular terrain.
“It is a place of reflection, calm and peace. We weren’t trying to make a big statement about Britain here. We want people to come and think about what happened here and how important it is. ”
He said it was also about putting faces and stories to names. “Many families came forward with personal stories, photographs, letters and we hope that it is these stories of these young men and women who died that speak to the younger generations,” he said.
Lord Ricketts said donations are still needed to maintain the monument and build an educational center.
Edward Llewellyn, the British ambassador to France, told veterans: “This is your monument. It sits here brilliantly in the Normandy sun overlooking Gold Beach across from home.
“I know how reluctant our veterans are to be described as heroes. The true heroes are those who never returned: their companions. Their names are here now, together, thanks to you. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism