D-Day 70: Queen joins veterans of landings in honouring fallen comrades
Updated 3:29pm Friday 6th June 2014 in News
The Queen and the Prince of Wales attend the service of remembrance at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, Bayeux, to mark 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings
VETERANS of the D-Day landings, including those from Wiltshire, honoured their fallen comrades during a poignant service of remembrance in Normandy attended by the Queen today.
Surrounded by war graves, old soldiers, sailors and airmen gathered with senior members of the Royal Family and Prime Minister David Cameron in the town of Bayeux to pay their respects.
The event marked 70 years to the day that Allied troops stormed Normandy beaches in the largest amphibious assault in history, described by wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill as "undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place''.
June 6, 1944 was the beginning of an 80-day campaign to liberate the region which involved three million troops and cost the lives of 250,000.
Bayeux, a quiet French town close to the coast, was the first to be freed from Nazi control during the campaign.
The town's military graveyard was a fitting place to stage the open-air service as it is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery of the Second World War in France, with more than 4,000 burials.
In bright summer sunshine the service of hymns and prayers was staged with military clergy conducting proceedings.
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, on a three-day state visit to France, were joined by the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.
Mr Cameron was accompanied by his wife Sam and the couple had attended an earlier Royal British Legion service of remembrance at Bayeux Cathedral with Charles and Camilla and veterans.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband were among the congregation for the open-air service at the cemetery as was Foreign Secretary William Hague and Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Moments after the Queen arrived a fly-past of historic aircraft - two Spitfires, a Dakota and a Lancaster bomber - roared overhead as they flew in formation.
At the start of the service the Rev Patrick Irwin, the Royal British Legion Chaplain to Normandy, told the congregation: "Here in this cemetery we are reminded of the true cost of D-Day whose 70th anniversary we mark today.
"We pay tribute to the dead and welcome enthusiastically the veterans for whose courage and devotion we are most grateful.
"This is a British cemetery and most of the graves in this place are British but D-Day involved many nations and many nations are represented here."
The Chaplain added: "Here in this cemetery men from many nations lie together united in death, and together, united in gratitude, sorrow and respect, we honour their memory - may they rest in peace."
The Queen said in a foreword to the official D-Day commemorative brochure that the campaign was launched to secure freedom in Europe.
She said: "Hundreds of thousands of servicemen made the journey across the channel by sea and air and through their brave actions and dogged determination, established a vital foothold in occupied Europe.
"This immense and heroic endeavour brought the end of the Second World War within reach.
"I am sure that these commemorations will provide veterans of the conflict and their families gathered here in France, along with their hosts, the people of Normandy, with an opportunity to reflect on their experiences and the incredible sacrifices that were made."
David Cameron said he felt a mixture of "awe and gratitude" as he met veterans of the D-Day landings at the 70th anniversary commemorations.
The Prime Minister said it was "incredibly moving" to be at the events in Normandy and it was "humbling" for people of his generation who had not had to do anything like the heroic actions of June 6, 1944.
He said: "I think the clear evidence of what happened in 1944 and 1945 is the importance of standing up together for freedom and security.
"And we should remember that, and the importance of Nato and thinking forward to the Nato summit in Wales in September.
"But I think it's right today, of all days, to remember all those who served and all those who died.
"Yes, of course we have our disagreements today with Russia, but we should never forget that Russia - the Soviet Union - was an ally of Britain and America, the Free French, Canadian and Australian forces, that liberated this continent from the tyranny of Nazism."
The Prime Minister joined veterans as they formed a procession from Bayeux's cathedral to the historic city's Commonwealth cemetery.
Led by a piper and accompanied by the tolling of the cathedral's bell, the veterans were applauded by crowds lining the route.
Mr Cameron said: "It's incredibly moving. I was at the vigil at Pegasus Bridge last night, standing at the spot where one of the gliders landed to take that bridge.
"The sense of history, the sense of awe, but also for my generation the sense of humility - we haven't had to do anything like what our grandfathers' generation did to fight for freedom, to put their lives on the line.
"It is awe inspiring, it gives you a sense of humility but above all it gives you a sense of extraordinary gratitude for what these amazingly brave people did."
He said the veterans still had a "spring in their step and joy in their hearts about coming back here and remembering what they did".
The Prime Minister praised the "incredibly welcoming" people of France for the reception they had given the returning veterans.
Labour leader Ed Miliband was also at the Bayeux ceremony, describing the cathedral service organised by the Royal British Legion as "incredibly poignant".