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Emotional days of commemoration mark 80th anniversary of D-Day

Veterans are greeted by crowds following the veterans parade with the Spirit of Normandy Trust, on the sea front in Arromanches, in Normandy, France, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Photo by Jane Barlow/PA

By PA Reporters

Two emotional days of commemoration have marked the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

Royals, world leaders and veterans gathered in Normandy for a series of ceremonies and events, paying tribute to those who served during the 1944 beach invasion.

The King and the Prince of Wales praised the “bravery and sacrifice” of D-Day veterans who “served at that critical time” as they both made speeches in France on Thursday.

Charles, alongside the Queen, appeared emotional at events in Portsmouth on Wednesday and in Ver-sur-Mer the following day as they heard tributes to, and words from, servicemen.

The commemorations also presented the royals with a chance to meet some of the veterans, with 98-year-old Roy Hayward saying the King had asked him “how I got on and how I had my legs blown off”.

Some received updates on the health of both Charles and the Princess of Wales, with the King saying he is “doing well” and William telling one veteran Kate was getting better.

The final international commemorative event saw the Prince of Wales join a number of world leaders at a ceremony on Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak did not attend the ceremony in Normandy on Thursday but Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer mingled with heads of state such as US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron.

A Tory source played down the diplomatic impact of the Prime Minister’s absence, pointing out he will see Mr Macron, Mr Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other key leaders at the G7 summit in Italy next week.

William spoke to Mr Biden, Mr Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ahead of the event.

Before the ceremony on Omaha Beach, Charles addressed the crowd of veterans at the national commemorative event in Ver-sur-Mer in Normandy, as he spoke of his “profound sense of gratitude” to those who served in 1944.

He appeared emotional during the service, alongside the Queen who wiped her eye as the memories of one D-Day veteran were read to the crowd in Ver-sur-Mer.

At a Canadian commemorative ceremony on Juno Beach, William thanked those who served “for our freedom”, adding: “All of you demonstrated heroism, and determination, that ensured fascism was conquered.”

Thursday’s commemorations began in the early morning with a military piper at Gold Beach in Arromanches, who played a lament at sea at the exact moment of the invasion.

During his speech, the King paid tribute to the “remarkable wartime generation”, telling the audience: “It is with the most profound sense of gratitude that we remember them and all who served at that critical time”.

He added: “Our ability to learn from their stories at first hand diminishes, but our obligation to remember them, what they stood for and what they achieved for us all can never diminish.”

The King wore his Field Marshal No 4 Tropical Service dress uniform with medals and decorations for the event.

The audience heard the experiences of Joe Mines, 99, from Hornchurch in east London, and Camilla dabbed her eye before smiling with the King as Mr Mines waved his arms in the air.

Schoolchildren presented veterans attending the UK’s national commemoration event with white roses while cadets waved flags.

Elsewhere, Mr Biden spoke at a US national commemoration in Normandy alongside Mr Macron.

He said: “It is the highest honour, as Commander in Chief, to be able to salute you here in Normandy.”

Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales praised the “bravery and sacrifice of the Canadian troops, who gave so much 80 years ago” as he delivered a speech at the ceremony on Juno Beach.

He was joined by Mr Trudeau, French prime minister Gabriel Attal, Canadian D-Day veterans and armed forces personnel in Courseulles-sur-Mer in France.

William, addressing veterans, added: “Thank you for our freedom, and thank you for your service.”

Sir Keir said the national commemorative event in Normandy had been “moving and powerful”, adding: “My message to the veterans is ‘thank you’.”

Thursday’s commemorations followed a ceremony in Portsmouth on Wednesday where the King appeared to wipe away a tear during an event where he paid tribute to the “courage, resilience and solidarity” of veterans.

In the UK, an 80-strong flotilla of boats left from Falmouth, Cornwall, where thousands of troops departed to take part in the invasion, while a beacon-lighting ceremony will take place in Aylesford, Kent.

The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh joined veterans at a Royal British Legion remembrance service at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester met veterans at a show at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

The event, D-Day 80: Remembering The Normandy Landings, was hosted by Davina McCall and feature music from the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, as well as Lulu, Katherine Jenkins, Emeli Sande and D-Day Darlings lead vocalist Katie Ashby.

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