Retreat over celebrations for D-Day anniversary

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THE GOVERNMENT retreated yesterday over the celebratory tone of its plans for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Normandy landings on 6 June. The move came after protests by the Royal British Legion and a Labour MP that the Government was trivialising the occasion.

The anniversary events were described only last week by the Prime Minister as 'celebrations and commemorations'. But last night the National Heritage Department said: 'We do shy away from the word 'celebration'.'

Ted Jobson, national chairman of the Royal British Legion, said: 'It should not be glitzy, fireworks and street parties. It is totally inappropriate . . . there were 37,000 killed in the first two days of the operation.'

The Government has paid Lowe Bell, a public relations company run by Tim Bell, pounds 62,000 to help it to draw up a list and co-ordinate the events, starting in the same week as the European elections. They include a Spam fritter frying competition at Culean Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland. Local authorities were urged to take up a list of 15 ideas, including D- Day sandcastle competitions for children on British beaches, planting 'freedom trees', lighting beacons, and organising dances with 1940s style music and dress.

A Commons motion tabled by Peter Mandelson, the Labour MP and former director of communications for his party, called on the Government to scrap its programme of 'festivities and public relations stunts'. He claimed it had completely misjudged the country's mood.

In spite of the retreat on its rhetoric, the National Heritage Department said there were no plans to drop any events. 'We feel the commemoration takes many different guises. We don't think it is entirely a sombre and solemn occasion. There is scope for events which are less solemn. We think we have the balance right,' said a spokesman.

The Prime Minister's office rejected an allegation by Ludovic Kennedy, the broadcaster and D-Day veteran, that the events were a 'cynical ploy' to divert public attention from the expected 'rotten results' for the Tories in the European elections on 9 June.

However, while ex-servicemen may object to the tone of the Government's plans, many young people have little idea about the events of 1944.

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