D-Day 80 years on: King speaks of 'profound sense of gratitude' at Normandy commemoration

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports from Normandy on a day of remembrance that will be remembered for generations to come

The King and Queen appeared emotional as they heard the experiences of D-Day veterans at a British-led commemorative event marking 80 years since the Normandy landings.

Charles spoke of his “profound sense of gratitude” to those who stepped up at that "critical time" by fighting in the D-day operation, as he addressed the audience at Ver-sur-Mer.

He paid tribute to the “remarkable wartime generation” as he said: “How fortunate we were, and the entire free world, that a generation of men and women in the United Kingdom and other Allied nations did not flinch when the moment came to face that test.

“On the beaches of Normandy, on the seas beyond and in the skies overhead, our armed forces carried out their duty with a humbling sense of resolve and determination, qualities so characteristic of that remarkable wartime generation.

“Very many of them never came home, they lost their lives on the D-Day landing grounds or in the many battles that followed."

“We recall the lesson that comes to us again and again across the decades – free nations must stand together to oppose tyranny," the King added.

The King and Queen are welcomed by British cadets and French schoolchildren as they arrive for the UK commemorative event in Ver-sur-Mer. Credit: PA
Charles and Camilla are in Normandy having attended ceremonial events in the UK on Wednesday. Credit: PA
Veteran Ken Hay is supported as he speaks during the UK national commemorative event. Credit: PA

He went on: “Our ability to learn from their stories at first hand diminishes, but our obligation to remember them, what they stood for and what they achieved for us all can never diminish.”

The King then saluted during the Last Post and the silence that followed. Some veterans stood and saluted while others remained in their chairs with their eyes closed.

Veterans could be seen wiping their eyes with tissues as Charles made his address. Some veterans were helped from their wheelchairs to stand when the King and Queen arrived.

Charles nodded and smiled at the veterans as he passed, with veteran Henry Rice beaming and nodding back to the monarch.

The King and Queen also appeared emotional during the service, with the Queen wiping her eye as the memories of one D-Day veteran were read to the crowd.

Camilla was seen dabbing her eye she heard the experiences of Joe Mines, 99, from Hornchurch in London, who was present at today's event.

His words were read by British actor Martin Freeman, who said Mr Mines had come back “to pay my respect to those who didn’t make it”.

ITV News Reporter Chloe Keedy speaks to the lone military piper on Gold Beach who paid tribute to the D-Day soldiers who died 80 years ago

Mr Mines smiled and waved to applause from the audience as Mr Freeman concluded his speech and sat down next to the veteran.

Also among celebrities at the UK-led event was Sir Tom Jones, who performed his song, "I Won't Crumble With You If You Fall".

During the ceremony, an RAF band performed a marching display while Dakota military transport aircraft, widely used by the Allies during the Second World War, flew overhead.

As wreaths were laid, veterans held on to the flowers given to them by children. Many smiled and thanked the young people paying tribute. Nine Red Arrows in formation flew overhead as the national anthem of the United Kingdom was sung, trailing the team’s trademark red, white, and blue colours.

A D-Day veteran who paid tribute at the UK national commemorative event to a friend who saved his life, said he became a “bit tearful”. Arthur Oborne, 100, recalled being shot in the lung three days after arriving on Gold Beach.

Rishi Sunak, Queen Camilla, King Charles, President of France Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte Macron lay wreaths. Credit: PA
A military piper comes into shore on a DUKW amphibious vehicle on Gold Beach in Arromanches in Normandy, France. Credit: PA
Several commemorative events are being held this year to mark the 80-year milestone. Credit: PA

His life was saved by his friend Walter Gummerson, who was killed the next day alongside the rest of his unit.

Mr Oborne, from Portishead, Somerset, told the crowd: “I wish I could tell him that I have never taken his sacrifice for granted and will always remember him and our friends. So Gummy, thank you my old friend.” Afterwards he said: “I had no problems talking but it was a bit emotional, I was a bit upset and teary. I think everyone did well at the service, I was a bit apprehensive at the start but I wanted to speak.”

Another D-Day veteran gave the Queen a white flower he received during the UK Normandy event because “she is a very nice person”. Gilbert Clarke, 98, who was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, said of his meeting with Camilla: “I gave it to her because she is a very nice person. She took the time to talk to us, so I wanted to give it.”

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, greet a Second World War veteran. Credit: AP

Thursday's commemorations kicked off early in the morning with a military piper playing a lament at sea at the exact moment of the beach invasion in 1944.

At Gold Beach in Arromanches, Major Trevor Macey-Lillie paid tribute to fallen veterans, who led the biggest seaborne invasion in military history, by playing Highland Laddie as he came ashore.

The piece was also to remember a lone piper who played in the Normandy landings and was never shot at. Major Macey-Lillie began in a landing craft utility before being driven up the beach in a DUKW amphibious vehicle.

He told ITV News the experience was a "privilege and "totally humbling".

Explaining why he'd spent the previous night sleeping out on the water, he said: "When I was there sleeping under the stars looking up I was wondering what the thoughts were of those soldiers 80 years ago."

The Red Arrows with a Typhoon FGR4 aircraft perform a flypast during the British commemoration. Credit: PA
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and wife Akshata Murty with RAF veteran Bernard Morgan, 100, from Crewe. Credit: PA

He added: "We need to remember the young soldiers who didn't make it home, and look after the ones who did and are now at an elderly age."

Describing his experience on Thursday, he said: “Totally outstanding – wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The memories of all those guys here.”

Royal Marines on board the landing craft waded into the sea carrying wreaths, with spectators clapping as they came ashore.

Major Macey-Lillie added it was important “to represent them and obviously to keep the memory alive for all those past soldiers and the ones that are still with us today”.

Asked how it felt to be back five years after having played for the 75th anniversary, he said: “Outstanding, you know what I mean, that Mulberry Harbour right behind me here, number 449, was the one I played on on the 75th.

"To be back here on the same beach, doing the same style of work again is amazing.”

Martin Freeman read out some words on behalf of 99-year-old veteran Joe Mines. Credit: PA
Rishi Sunak arriving at the MOD and Royal British Legion's commemorative event. Credit: AP
Veterans are escorted at the end of the UK national commemorative event. Credit: PA

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage was spotted coming down to Gold Beach ahead of the tribute.

Rishi Sunak has missed the major international ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day but Sir Keir Starmer will mingle with world leaders at the Omaha Beach event.

However, the prime minister did attend the earlier British event also attended by the King and Queen and French president Emmanuel Macron.

"We owe you everything," Mr Sunak told veterans, adding: “Each of you who contributed that day – sailor, soldier, aviator, civilian – whether you fought on the beaches, or parachuted from the skies, or flew fighters or gliders, whether you were an engineer or a radio operator or an intelligence officer, your actions freed a continent and built a better world. “You risked everything and we owe you everything. We cannot possibly hope to repay that debt but we can and we must pledge never to forget."

He said veterans had “taught generations of young people about the horrors of war”, adding: “Yet with each passing year, it falls now to those of us who listened in awe to your stories to pass them on to our own children and grandchildren. “Because only by remembering can we make certain that the cause you fought for, that so many of your friends and colleagues died for, that great cause of freedom, peace and democracy, will never be taken for granted.”

A Tory source played down the diplomatic significance of Mr Sunak not attending the international gathering, pointing out that the PM will see Mr Macron, US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other key leaders at the G7 summit in Italy next week.

The Prince of Wales and senior ministers will represent the UK at the international event, joining more than 25 heads of state and veterans for the official ceremony on Omaha Beach, Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.

Veterans held roses which they received from schoolchildren during the UK ceremony. Credit: PA
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Prince William during the Canadian commemorative ceremony at the Juno Beach Centre. Credit: AP
Parachutists drop over the event ahead of the government of Canada ceremony. Credit: AP

William also attended a Canadian Canadian commemorative ceremony, where he was greeted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French prime minister Gabriel Attal.

The ceremony was staged just metres from Juno Beach at Courseulles-sur-Mer in Normandy, where some 14,000 Canadians came ashore in the face of heavy enemy fire on June 6, 1944.

William received a royal salute from a guard of honour formed by troops from the Canadian armed forces.

He said: “The assault on D-Day remains the most ambitious military operation in history. The events of that windy, grey day, ultimately led to the liberation of Europe, but it came at heavy cost.

“We continue to honour every Canadian, who gave so much. Every Canadian family who lost a loved one. Every Canadian who lived with the scars of battle, both physical and mental.”

He added: “All of you demonstrated heroism, and determination, that ensured fascism was conquered. The commitment to service displayed by Canadian troops, is a great testament to the strength of the people of Canada.

“Canada and the UK continue to stand side by side as we did in 1944. Just as strong together, 80 years later. Ensuring the memory of those who fought for freedom lives on is why we’ve come together again today – to say thank you.”

Addressing veterans, he said, “Thank you for our freedom, and thank you for your service," repeating his appreciation in French, saying: “Merci pour notre liberte, et merci pour votre service.”

Before the Prince of Wales and the prime ministers of France and Canada left floral tributes on Juno Beach, a lone piper played a lament in the dunes as the waves crashed on the sands.

On D-Day, 359 Canadian soldiers were killed, while more than 5,000 troops from the Commonwealth country died over the course of the 11-week Battle of Normandy.

Royal Marines of 47 Commando wade through the water at Asnelles carrying a commemorative wreath. Credit: PA
Re-enactors on Gold Beach commemorate the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Credit: PA
Piper Major Trevor Macey-Lillie comes onto shore on a DUKW amphibious vehicle. Credit: PA

Taking part in a US ceremony at a cemetery for American troops overlooking Omaha Beach, President Emmanuel Macron awarded 11 US Second World War veterans with the Legion of Honor, France’s highest distinction.

Speaking to the men, who are now 98 to 104 years old, he said: “You came here because the free world needed each and every one of you, and you answered the call. You came here to make France a free nation. You’re back here today at home, if I may say.”

Macron kissed each veteran on both cheeks and greeted them warmly as he pinned medals on their lapels.

Biden met with American veterans of D-Day as he marked the invasion’s 80th anniversary, some of whom were helped out of wheelchairs to pose for photos with the president and first lady Jill Biden. One hugged Biden, another saluted. When President Biden learned it was the birthday of one of the veterans, he led the audience in singing "Happy Birthday".

The first lady clutched the arm of another veteran, Robert Gibson, to help him stand next to Biden as they shook hands.

"Don’t get old,” the 100-year-old man joked to the 81-year-old president, who was a toddler when D-Day took place.

Speaking at the US ceremony, President Biden said the war in Ukraine was a "stark example" of the "unending fight" between "dictatorship and democracy".

He said "we will not walk away" from the defence of Ukraine, adding: "To surrender to bullies, to bow down to dictators, is simply unthinkable. If we were to do that, it means we'd be forgetting what happened here on these hallowed beaches."

On Wednesday, both Mr Sunak and Sir Keir muted their efforts on the general election campaign trail, attending the UK’s national commemoration event in Portsmouth alongside members of the royal family and armed forces veterans.

Across the channel, the Princess Royal paid tribute to British D-Day veterans, telling one he was the reason she performed her public role.

Princess Anne joined veterans and their families at the Royal British Legion’s (RBL) poignant service of commemoration at Bayeux War Cemetery, where the congregation was surrounded by the manicured graves of more than 4,000 military casualties.

Later she took part in a solemn vigil in the cemetery, and described “the nervous trepidation of those allied sailors, soldiers and airmen who, 80 years ago today, were charged with storming the Normandy coastline and beginning the campaign to free western Europe from Nazi tyranny”.

It comes after hundreds of armed forces personnel parachuted into an historic D-Day drop zone in Normandy earlier on Wednesday to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the airborne invasion to liberate Europe from Nazi rule.

A brass band could be heard playing Vera Lynn's "We'll meet again", a defining classic of the Second World War, as paratroopers recreated the historic landing.

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