Flypast in Normandy ends poignant 75th D-Day commemorations

The RAF’s Red Arrows fly over the beach at Arromanches Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Thousands of visitors have gathered on a small Normandy seaside town to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Officials said it was an unprecedented turnout at Arromanches on Thursday and larger than other anniversaries.

Despite approaching nearly 100-years-old, around 300 veterans, mostly British, made the journey to the commemorations in the main square to remember their fallen comrades.

The day began at 7.25am local time with the tradition of a lone piper playing a lament on the remaining Mulberry harbour in the town called Port Winston.

The RAF’s Red Arrows fly over the beach at Arromanches Credit: PA

This signals the minute the invasion began and the moment the first British soldier landed on Gold beach.

Standing atop the structure, Pipe Major Trevor Macey-Lillie, of 19th Regiment Royal Artillery (The Scottish Gunners), performed Highland Laddie as crowds gathered on the beach below him and lined the promenade, applauding his performance.

Afterwards he said: "That was nerve wracking to do but I feel very proud and it was a privilege to do it."

World leaders Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau also gathered earlier in Normandy to remember the bravery of more than three million allied troops, 250,000 of whom lost their lives during the 80-day siege.

Mrs May appeared alongside Mr Macron at an inauguration ceremony in Ver-sur-Mer, near Gold Beach in Normandy, where the first British soldiers landed.

Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron spoke to veterans. Credit: PA

Speaking at the service, Mrs May said it was "incredibly moving to be here today, looking out over the beaches where one of the greatest battles for freedom this world has ever known took place".

She added: "And it is truly humbling to do so with the men who were there that day. It's an honour for all of us to share this moment with you."

Throughout the day members of the public queued up to thank D-Day veterans for their service during the Second World War.

Sid Barnes, 93, from Norfolk, served in the Royal Army Service Corps and landed on the beach by Arromanches on June 6.

Veterans remembered their fallen comrades Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

He returns every year to the town and attends commemoration events.

This year visitors were coming up to him to shake his hand, with one man saying: "Without you and everything you and the other veterans did, we would not be here."

He said: "People are coming up to us to say thank you. But I think ‘thank you for what?’

"We just did what we knew we must do. It is nice to know we are valued though."

Hundreds of people lined the streets of Bayeux to clap and cheer D-Day veterans as they paraded from the cathedral service to the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery.

Some veterans spoke to ITV News about their experiences from that fateful day 75 years ago.

Alan King, a Tank Radio Operator for the 27th Armoured Brigade, said he would be visiting the grave of a friend who died in his arms during the landing.

He said: "There's one particular friend of mine... who died in my arms in a tank. And I shall visit his grave tomorrow I think. I always go there when I come."

John Sleep, a 98-year-old veteran from the Norfolk Regiment, carried a cross bearing the words "peace among all nations" to lay at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Bayeux.

When asked by ITV News if he was proud that hundreds of people had lined the streets of the French town to pay tribute to the veterans, he replied: "It's the stupidity of war."

D-Day veteran Lewis Trinder read the exhortation Credit: PA

Later the veterans were treated to a fly past from the Red Arrows after singing along to a rendition of We’ll Meet Again with the RAF Regiment Band while linking arms together.

Lewis Trinder read the exhortation. The 95-year-old, who lives in Aldershot, was stationed on HMS Magpie anchoring off Gold beach at 2.30am on June 6 1944 where they stayed for three days as a support vessel ready to step in if the invasion was not going to plan.

Mr Trinder, who has visited Normandy annually for at least 20 years, said: "I have read the exhortation so many times and this year I really tried to make sure the passion came across.

"If you come to Arromanches, everybody knows you.

"This is like a second home to me. I’ve got more friends here than anywhere else in the world."

Planes from the Battle of Britain memorial flight pass over Arromanches Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

Meanwhile the US president appeared at a service alongside Mr Macron at a service at the Colleville cemetery in Normandy for further D-Day commemorations.

Both of the world leaders thanked the veterans for their service, as a number were presented with the Legion d'honneur, the highest military merit in France.

Mr Trump told veterans: "Our debt to you is everlasting."

Mr Trump and Mr Macron appeared alongside each other at a memorial event near Caen, France. Credit: PA

"Today we express our undying gratitude. When you were young - these men enlisted their lives in a great crusade - one of the greatest of all times," he added

Mr Macron said: "Today France has not forgotten those fighters for whom we owe our freedom. On behalf of France I bow down in front of their bravery. I bow down to our veterans and I say thank you."

The two world leaders witnessed a flyover after the ceremony, as the planes released a streak of red, white and blue colours as they passed.

  • What is the D-Day landings and why is it so historic?

American troops land in France on D-Day. Credit: AP

The allied forces' combined naval, air and land assault on Nazi-occupied France began on June 6, 1944.

Codenamed Operation Overlord, Prime Minister Winston Churchill described the mission as "undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place".

It marked an 80-day assault to liberate Normandy, which involved three million troops, with 250,000 who died in their efforts.

As night drew on June 6, 1944, around 156,000 allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy's, battling heavy weather conditions and coming under fire from German forces.

Some of those who made the journey did not make to shore as they drowned when dropped off in waters too deep.

Within 11 months of the D-Day landings, the Nazis were defeated as they allied troops pushed into mainland Europe.