PORTSMOUTH, England: British royalty and leaders from around the world gathered in Portsmouth on Wednesday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, honouring the men and women who participated in what is still the largest naval, air and land operation in history.
United States President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May were among the 16 world leaders attending several events throughout the day to mark the anniversary of the allied invasion of northern France.
The morning kicked off at an amphitheatre near the Portsmouth harbour. Queen Elizabeth II, wearing a bright pink dress, sat next to Trump and Prince Charles. Other leaders from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland and Slovakia were in attendance.
Addressing the crowd from her box, the queen said that when she attended commemorations for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, some thought it would be the last. “But the wartime generation — my generation — is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today,” she said.
7,000naval vessels attacked German positions on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944
“On behalf of the entire country — indeed, the whole free world — that I say to you all, thank you,” she said.
It was a poignant affair with military bands playing sombre music as black and white film clips broadcast from the stage, showing the faces of young men running onto beaches and readying to jump out of planes.
When Trump took the stage, he read part of a prayer that former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt read over the airwaves to the country on the eve of D-Day: “Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavour, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilisation, and to set free a suffering humanity.”
French President Emmanuel Macron read a letter, in French, from a resistance fighter named Henri Fertet, who was executed at the age of 16. “I am going to die for my country,” he wrote to his parents. “I do not doubt that you will remain courageous, if only out of love for me.”
Macron finished with “Vive la France” before exiting the stage.
Later in the day, Trump and the queen met some of the 300 veterans in attendance who took part in the effort to liberate France from Nazi control. Some of them then boarded a ship to repeat their journey to Normandy.
Arthur Hampson, who turned 93 on Wednesday, was one of those who shuttled troops and tanks across the English Channel. On D-Day, he was an 18-year-old midshipman on the landing craft LCT 313, ferrying Canadian soldiers and Sherman DD tanks to Juno Beach, one of the five landing beaches. They successfully landed four of the tanks, but one fell into the sea, and two crew members drowned.
Hampson told the Washington Post: “I don’t regard myself as a hero. We had a job to do. We didn’t want to let anyone down. But we also didn’t want to die.” He returned to Portsmouth that same night and sipped a quiet pint in a pub. He recalled thinking, “I can’t believe what we’d gone through that day.”
I don’t regard myself as a hero. We had a job to do. We didn’t want to let anyone down. But we also didn’t want to die.
On June 6, 1944, some 7,000 naval vessels, including battleships, destroyers and assault craft, attacked German positions on the Normandy coast and landed more than 132,000 ground troops on the beaches.
Historians view the D-Day invasion as “the beginning of the end of the war” and stress that it was an international effort. The fighting in Normandy went on for another month.
John Jenkins, 99, was with the Royal Pioneer Corps when he landed at Gold Beach. He recalled digging holes in the ground to get a few hours of sleep and being ever fearful of treading on mines. Asked about the fear, he told the Post, “You didn’t show it, but you felt it. Young people today need to know what happened, because if it didn’t happen, they’d all be wearing swastikas today,” he said.
Jenkins added that “Trump was most welcome” at the commemorations. “I know the Americans didn’t come into it until a bit later, but they did do their part,” he said.
Some of the hardest fighting on D-Day was done by American troops at Omaha beach, where approximately 2,000 US soldiers died. An additional 238 US airborne troops were killed dropping into enemy territory behind the landing beaches.
Wednesday is the last day of Trump’s state visit to Britain. After events in Portsmouth, he will fly to Ireland where he will hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. Trump will stay the night at his golf resort in Doonbeg.
“Could not have been treated more warmly in the United Kingdom by the Royal Family or the people. Our relationship has never been better, and I see a very big Trade Deal down the road,” he tweeted on Wednesday.