France liberates D-Day veterans' occupied hotels

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE FRENCH government yesterday scrapped plans to requisition two hotels in Deauville where Second World War veterans had reserved rooms to attend the 50th anniversary of D-Day on 6 June. A foreign ministry spokesman said all bookings would be honoured.

A furore was unleashed by announcements in Britain that the Hotel du Golf and the Hotel Royal in the Channel resort had been taken over by the French government, reportedly to house foreign dignitaries.

The ministry said yesterday there had never been any plans to requisition the hotels.

'France wants to welcome and honour all those who took part in its liberation,' said Richard Duque, the foreign ministry spokesman. He added that 'no requisitioning was ever envisaged'.

That assertion was in direct contradiction to statements from the management of the two hotels, who told travel agents that the government had block-booked all their rooms, although some had taken deposits 18 months ago for bookings from British and Canadian veterans who took part in the parachute landings which began the invasion of France.

The agents said the hotel managements told them on Thursday that the bookings were cancelled and that local authorities would try to relocate the veterans in private homes. Local authorities in Normandy had started a poster campaign with the slogan En juin 94 dites-leur 'welcome'.

The controversy, which aroused anger in France as elderly veterans were shown explaining their distress on television, came just over a week after France and Germany laid to rest a simmering dispute over the refusal to invite Germany to the celebrations.

With veterans' organisations insisting that the ceremonies should remain a celebration of their victory over the Nazi occupier, Paris and Bonn finally agreed to hold a separate reconciliation festival in Heidelberg attended by President Francois Mitterrand and Chancellor Helmut Kohl just after the

D-Day commemoration.

The row over the hotel reservations, however, was resolved in just a few days, unlike the German question, which took several weeks. It underlined the problems faced when tens of thousands of visitors including seven heads of state or government are expected. With all hotels booked for miles around, some visitors will be taken by bus from Paris.

Benoit Bouchard, the Canadian ambassador to France, said the affair showed 'the complexity of organising' the celebration. The Canadian embassy, he said, 'was assailed by telephone calls of support' from French callers.

Angus Cross, the D-Day veteran who led the fight for the Hotel du Golf, was delighted at the news yesterday, which was broken to him as he travelled to France.

Mr Cross, 69, a former corporal with the Parachute Regiment, who lives in Folkestone, helped to book rooms in Deauville on behalf of more than 100 Canadian veterans who served with the British parachute division on D-Day. He had threatened to sue the Hotel du Golf if the bookings were not honoured.

Leading article, page 15