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  1. ITV Report

Prince William pays tribute to 'ultimate sacrifice' of D-Day fallen at 75th anniversary service

  • Video report by ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship

The Duke of Cambridge has laid a wreath to those who made "the ultimate sacrifice" during a service of commemoration marking the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

Prince William joined more than 2,000 people, including some 20 D-Day veterans, for a service in Heroes' Square, National Memorial Arboretum, before paying his respects at the Normandy Campaign Memorial.

The service marked the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings, as world leaders gathered in France to remember the sacrifice of millions of troops during the Second World War.

Prince William spent about an hour with veterans who each played a role in the successful Allied assault of the heavily fortified Nazi-occupied coastline of Northern France on June 6, 1944.

The Duke addressed the ranks of visitors, many of whom bore medals, wore berets, or carried other tokens to show their service to the country.

After laying a wreath with a personal message, which read: "In memory of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. We will remember them. William," the Prince delivered a short reading from George VI, the Queen’s father and his great-grandfather.

The Duke of Cambridge met veterans at the 75th anniversary event. Credit: PA

Reading the words of the monarch of the who reigned during the war, the Duke said: “Four-years-ago, our nation and empire stood alone against an overwhelming enemy, with our backs to the wall.

“Now once more, a supreme test has to be faced.

"This time the challenge is not to fight to survive, but to fight to win, the final victory for the good cause.

"At this historic moment surely not one of us is too busy, too young, or too old to play a part in a nationwide, perchance a world-wide vigil of prayer as the great crusade sets forth."

As The Last Post signalled the beginning of two-minutes' silence, veterans bowed their heads and remembered absent friends.

During the service, the duke read out a statement from his grandfather, George VI. Credit: PA

Among those attending the service was Peter Barlow, who at 18 years old signed up to join the army as a machine gunner and after months of fighting, found himself taking items from Adolf Hitler's private bedroom.

The 93 year old ITV News his fascinating, yet terrifying World War II story which started with him landing in Normandy after sailing across the English channel.

"We arrived at four o'clock in the morning and the sea was very, very rough and so we were kept on the ship for four hours," he said.

Eventually a landing craft, which would take them to the shore, arrived so they swapped ships and headed toward the beach.

"Everybody was so frightened," Mr Barlow said, "they weren't seasick."

"Then we came onto the beach and then were then told 'run, because there's some Messerschmitts coming over,' so we ran like the devil," he said.

He explained how through the course of the war, around 60% of his 200-strong team were killed.

Mr Barlow fights back the tears as he talks about his friend. Credit: ITV News

"The trouble was though, that you'd look up, somebody was missing. Somebody blown up with a telemine, somebody was shot with a sniper and we lost 60%," he said.

Mr Barlow told of one his most upsetting battle experiences, when his best friend's head was blown off in Eindhoven and says he still remembers the image.

Wiping away the tears, he said: "The stupid thing is it's 75 years ago but I can still see my friend with no head and you wake up some nights - it's awful, it's still with you."

Despite experiencing such horror, Mr Barlow added: "That's my story, but I'm pleased I went."

While much of Mr Barlow's story was told with a tear in his eye, there were a few occasions where he couldn't help but laugh - notably when he reached Hitler's private bedroom.

"I opened some drawers there and there was his shirts and handkerchiefs and I thought to myself 'I think I ought to take a few of these'," he said.

"I took one of his silk bow ties, which I've still got at home and then I moved to the next part of the cupboard and it had all his big swords, like those dress swords, so I took five and stuffed them under my coat and they're at home as well."

He joked that if somebody offered him £50,000 for the items he'd "turn them down - make it £100,000".

Another in attendance was 100-year-old Pixie Jenkins, a former Wren or member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service.

In 1944, Ms Jenkins helped drive troops and equipment to Newhaven Docks in East Sussex in the build-up to D-Day and throughout the Normandy landings.

The centenarian, from Aldridge, near Walsall, West Midlands, is among a handful of veterans who have been able to travel to the special service in Staffordshire.

She spoke to ITV News about the role she played in the war, but downplayed her significant part in the landings.

“To our crowd, it was a normal day at the office,” she said.

“We knew it was coming, but it was a day’s work for us.

“Because, don’t forget we had been at war since 1939, and we had Dunkirk.

“We had bombings, we had rockets, we had everything.”

The wreath laid by Prince William at the National Memorial Arboretum. Credit: PA

Ms Jenkins described the troops who fought in the war as “wonderful”.

“I hope the youngsters today realise just how lucky they are to have had old people like that.”

Reflecting on the 75th anniversary, she said: “We didn’t think we were part of history, we were just doing our job.”

Asked if she had any inclination at the time that she was part of history, Ms Jenkins said the idea would have made her "laugh".

Another veteran at the event was former Royal Engineer Don Sheppard, who still carries a sliver of shrapnel in his lung from a German shell fired on D-Day, to recall the dreadful conditions crossing the English Channel.

Don Sheppard attended the event at the National Memorial Arboretum. Credit: PA

"It was rough," said the 99-year-old, from Basildon, Essex.

Already a veteran of the North African campaign against Rommel and the tough battles through Sicily, Mr Sheppard's brigade went in on D-Day in support of the Canadians at Juno Beach.

His unit was then sent forward to Pegasus Bridge, captured by British paratroopers in the first hours of the battle, and ordered to blow it up if a predicted German counter-attack threatened the Normandy beachhead.

The attack did not materialise, but the hard-fighting continued as he and his comrades spent three months fighting crack German troops dug in among the thick hedgerows, known as the bocage.

He said: "One tank could hold up a whole battalion in that country.

"I think that time in the Orne valley was worse than D-Day.

"At Chateau St Come, around near Ranville and Breville, we lost 110 guys there in one night.

"Another time, a platoon from the Black Watch set off and the Germans were in the ditches.

"The platoon got slaughtered."

Mr Sheppard was among the veterans sharing their stories with the Prince, as was Mrs Jenkins.

Don Sheppard shows photographs of himself during the war. Credit: PA

Also chatting to the Duke was ex-Royal Navy serviceman Vic Brunt, now in his 90s, who was on a tank landing craft at Gold Beach.

He told the Duke how, on the day, his vessel beached to unload equipment but then ended up stranded under German gunfire - and also hit a mine going in.

Mr Brunt, twice a former mayor of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, said: "You're supposed to haul yourself off before the tide changes - but our ship missed the tide.

"So we had to wait for 12 hours. It wasn't the best place to be."

Prince William asked what his "abiding memory" of that day had been.

Mr Brunt replied: "I was only 19. I didn't know fear.

"I remember the shock of the bodies floating in the water and the destruction going on around.

"If you were lucky, you missed the worst of it."