Leaders from 16 countries join 300 veterans in D-Day commemoration

Queen Elizabeth leads tributes to ‘heroism’ of those who died in D-Day landings at 75th anniversary

Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth, US president Donald Trump and his wife, Melania Trump, watch a fly past during an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, in Portsmouth. Photograph: Tolga Akmen / AFP

Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth, US president Donald Trump and his wife, Melania Trump, watch a fly past during an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, in Portsmouth. Photograph: Tolga Akmen / AFP

 

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has led tributes to the “heroism, courage and sacrifice” of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who died in the D-Day landings. The queen was joined in Portsmouth on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the landings by leaders from 16 countries, including US president Donald Trump, French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

More than 300 veterans who took part in the landings, all over 90 years old, were present at a 90-minute commemoration that told the story of the build-up to the operation, tracing the war’s progress from 1939. The queen joined other leaders in rising to give the veterans two standing ovations during the commemoration.

“When I attended the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, some thought it might be the last such event. But the wartime generation – my generation – is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today. Seventy-five years ago, hundreds of thousands of young soldiers, sailors and airmen left these shores in the cause of freedom,” she said.

Quoting from a broadcast by her father, King George VI, the queen said the veterans had shown an unconquerable resolve, as the fate of the world depended on their success.

“Many of them would never return, and the heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten. It is with humility and pleasure, on behalf of the entire country – indeed the whole free world – that I say to you all, thank you,” she said.

Readings

Mr Trump read a prayer by the US president at the time, Franklin D Roosevelt, originally delivered on the evening of D-Day – June 6th, 1944. Mr Macron read a letter written to his parents by Henri Fertet, a 16-year-old resistance fighter, shortly before he was executed.

“The soldiers are coming to get me. I must hurry. My handwriting may look wobbly, but it is just because I am using a small pencil. I am not afraid of death, my conscience is completely clear . . . A thousand kisses. Long live France,” he wrote.

Ninety-nine year-old John Jenkins, a platoon sergeant with the Royal Pioneer Corps when he landed on D-Day, spoke from the vast stage on Portsmouth’s Southsea Commons about his experience.

“I was terrified; I think everyone was. You don’t show it, but it was there. I look back on it as a big part of my life. It changed me in a way. I was a small part in a big machine. You never forget your comrades, because we were all in it together. We must never forget,” he said.

Ahead of the D-Day commemorations, which continue in Normandy on Thursday, the 16 countries involved agreed a proclamation to mark the anniversary. The statement recognises the sacrifice of those who took part in the war and commits the countries to working together to find common ground in pursuit of shared values of democracy, tolerance and the rule of law.

The proclamation was signed by leaders from Britain, the US, France, Germany, Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Poland and Slovakia.