D-Day anniversary marked with socially-distanced ceremony

Luke Powell, PA

The 76th anniversary of the D-Day landings has been marked with a socially-distanced ceremony at the graves of fallen war heroes in France.

Compared to 2019’s extensive 75th anniversary commemorations, this year’s remembrance of the crucial 1944 allied invasion of Normandy was vastly scaled back.

Social-distancing requirements and travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic meant veterans and their families were forced to honour the fallen from afar on Saturday.

The ceremony at the Bayeux Cemetery in Normandy (Prefecture du Calvados-BV/PA)

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) said no more than 20 people – including the British Ambassador to France, Edward Llewellyn – attended a “small, but poignant” ceremony at the Bayeux Cemetery in Normandy at midday.

CWGC spokesman Peter Francis said it was a “stark contrast” to the 2019 anniversary event, which saw about 4,000 people mark the occasion.

He said: “We knew fairly early on that was not going to be possible this year, but in some ways it made this D-Day anniversary more poignant because we felt we had to do something for the people who cannot travel here to feel connected.”

British Ambassador to France Edward Llewellyn lays a wreath during the ceremony (Prefecture du Calvados-BV/PA)

To support those unable to make the annual pilgrimage to France, the CWGC offered to place tributes at graves and memorials on behalf of veterans and their families.

Local gardeners for the CWGC, which maintains thousands of sites commemorating the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars, placed special markers at its main locations in Normandy to help honour those killed in fighting there.

The tributes bear the inscription “Their Name Liveth For Evermore”, a phrase chosen by the CWGC’s first literary adviser, the writer Rudyard Kipling.

Meanwhile, Second World War veterans whose anniversary trip to the new British Normandy Memorial was cancelled were provided with footage of the site to mark the day.

More than 70 veterans were due to visit the memorial, which is located near the French town of Ver-sur-Mer.

Instead, the British Memorial Trust released a video on Saturday showing its construction.

Winston Churchill’s famous speech being carved at the new British Normandy Memorial (National Memorial Trust/PA)

Lord Peter Ricketts, chairman of trustees at the Normandy Memorial Trust, said: “We at the trust know how much the veterans and their families were looking forward to visiting the site around the time of the D-Day anniversary to see the memorial taking shape.

“We share their frustration that the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic have made that impossible.

“But the good news is that we are pressing on with real determination to complete the construction, despite all the obstacles.”

The video includes footage of carvers inscribing the words of Sir Winston Church’s speech from June 4 1940, which included the famous line: “We shall fight on the beaches”.