WWII

D-Day Veterans Invited To 75th Anniversary Commemorations

The Defence Secretary has written an open letter inviting all veterans of the landings to take part in commemorations in June.

On D-Day, 6 June 1944, Allied forces launched a combined naval, air and land assault on Nazi-occupied France (Picture: Crown Copyright).

The Defence Secretary has invited all veterans of D-Day to take part in the 75th-anniversary celebrations of the Normandy landings.

All sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen who helped pave the way for the liberation of Europe have been asked by Gavin Williamson to attended the event.

In an open letter issued ahead of a D-Day75 launch event in Portsmouth, Mr Williamson said: “Her Majesty’s Government is proud to announce plans to mark the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings planned for June 2019, when the eyes of the world will be upon you once more.

"Your actions in 1944 were the vital springboard to the liberation of Europe and the end of the Second World War," the letter continues.

"The breathtaking bravery and ingenuity you showed during those days still echo through our nation’s armed forces and society as a whole."

General Sir Gordon Messenger with D-Day veteran John Jenkins.
General Sir Gordon Messenger with D-Day veteran John Jenkins and Staff Sergeant Stephanie Cotterill.

Speaking at the launch at the D-Day Story Museum in Portsmouth, the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff also paid tribute to the role played by Normandy veterans.

General Sir Gordon Messenger said they were “human stories of bravery, courage and determination”.

D-Day veteran, Bob Gale, was also at the launch.

Mr Gale was only 22-years-old when he landed on Gold Beach on D-Day. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. 

Mr Gale recalled the moment he arrived on the beach: "The whole place seemed to be covered in smoke and there was an awful lot of noise going off. 

"The Germans shells going over the top, British shells going over the top a little bit higher, there was aeroplanes going over as well.

"I went up on the ramp to help the soldiers get off the boat and to tell them ' do not to step on the beach, step on the beach and you're dead so get off the beach as quick as possible' and they ran like rabbits, they really did." 

British troops landing in Normandy on D-Day
D-Day saw more than 132,000 troops land on the beaches of Normandy (Picture: Crown Copyright).

'Operation Overlord', the codename for the Allied landings on the Normandy beaches marked the start of a long campaign to liberate north-west Europe from German occupation.

Nearly 7,000 vessels, including battleships, destroyers, minesweepers, escorts and assault craft took part in naval component of the operation.

Naval forces were responsible for escorting and landing over 132,000 troops on the beaches.

D-Day veterans at launch of 75th anniversary events in Portsmouth.
D-Day veterans at launch of 75th anniversary events in Portsmouth.

Staff Sergeant Stephanie Cotterill and Sergeant Joe Peters were among the current serving personnel at the event, who spoke of their admiration for those who took part in the landings.

Both members of the Royal Military Police, Staff Sergeant Cotterill said it was a rare opportunity listen to hear “actual first-hand accounts from veterans”.

Sergeant Peters said he enjoyed answering questions from the school children who had been invited, and he also had praise for the veterans he met, saying: “They’ve done their bit.” 

Staff Sergeant Stephanie Cotterill meets D-Day veteran Denis Hosgood.
Staff Sergeant Stephanie Cotterill meets D-Day veteran Denis Hosgood.

Sergeant Peters said he enjoyed answering questions from the school children who had been invited, and he also had praise for the veterans he met, saying: "They’ve done their bit."

Veterans of the Normandy campaign have been invited to register their interest with The Royal British Legion (RBL).

The RBL has announced that a ship has been specially chartered to provide a fully-funded tour for around 300 Normandy veterans from 2 June to 9 June.

Royal Marines land at Asnelles beach as part of D-day 60 celebrations
Royal Marines conducting a beach landing in Normandy during the D-Day 60 commemorations in 2004 (Picture: Crown Copyright).

Each veteran can bring one carer who will also be fully funded by the Legion and Libor grants distributed by the Government.

Official commemorations will start with a ceremonial event on Portsmouth’s Southsea Common on the 5 June commencing a full five days of activity, including flypasts, military parades and festivals.

Additional events are set to take place across the UK and France.