D-Day Remembered: Comrades come together in last great gathering: Will Bennett reports from Arromanches, where 10,000 Britons paraded with pride

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The Independent Online
THERE WILL never be a parade like it again. Against the sombre background of the remnants of the Mulberry artificial harbour, 10,000 men and women marched along the beach at Arromanches yesterday with their heads held high.

Pride in the success of D-Day showed on the faces of the veterans in the long column which marched past the Queen.

In the huge crowd of spectators there was unashamed emotion and a sense of gratitude for what they had done.

Fifty years ago some of the veterans had come ashore on the same beach amid a hail of German fire. Fittingly, the parade was led by old comrades of the Royal Hampshire Regiment who were first on to Gold beach at Arromanches.

Behind them came a forest of flags, the standards of the old comrades' associations of almost every British unit which landed on D-Day. Despite marching on wet treacherous sand the standard bearers kept in time.

Some of the men, now mostly in their seventies, marched with the aid of sticks, and several blind veterans were led by comrades. One man became increasingly breathless but, wearing a look of grim determination, made it to the end of the parade before retiring reluctantly into the crowd.

The Arromanches parade was the biggest all-British event commemorating the anniversary and the Royal Family were there to add their personal thanks to the veterans.

The Queen told them: 'Many of you will have in your minds vivid pictures - some perhaps all too vivid - of that epic day and of the heroism and endurance shown by our own troops and by our allies.

'Those of us who were far away can only imagine what it was like and stand back in admiration of those who planned and fought for the establishment of that hard-won bridgehead.

'It was you and your comrades and allies fighting on other fronts who delivered Europe from that yolk of organised barbarism from which the men and women of following generations have been mercifully free.

'They should remember that they owe that freedom to those who fought and defeated Nazism.

'Veterans of the Normandy campaign, you deserve your nation's thanks. May we, your fellow countrymen, be worthy of what you did for us.'

Before the parade, the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal and the Dukes of York, Gloucester and Kent chatted to some of the veterans, many of whom had been waiting in parade formation for up to an hour and a half.

As the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived, the warship HMS Edinburgh fired a 42-gun royal salute about a quarter of a mile offshore. The Queen and the Duke then reviewed the veterans from the back of a Range Rover.

The Royal couple sat on the review platform accompanied only by Dr Jean-Michel le Comte, the Mayor of Arromanches, emphasising the important role that the town had played in organising the ceremony.

In his speech in English, the mayor said that it was a day 'our eyes will be damp with tears'. Looking across the beach at the parade, he welcomed 'you the soldiers of the longest day, you the soldiers of liberty'.

Then to music provided by five British Army bands, the columns moved forward after their long wait. Appropriately, the first tune was 'Old Comrades' followed by 'It's a Long Way to Tipperary' and 'Colonel Bogey'.

Three modern landing ships were on the beach just behind the veterans as symbols of amphibious warfare. They dwarf the tiny landing craft in which the veterans came ashore on D-Day.

Framing the whole scene were the battered remains of Mulberry harbour, the artificial port built by the British at Arromanches shortly after D-Day to bring in the mountain of supplies needed for the Allied advance.

After the parade, the Queen chatted to veterans who had been unable to take part and were sitting in the crowd.

Almost every one of the 13,500 British veterans currently in Normandy was at Arromanches yesterday for what will probably be their last great gathering.

As thousands in the crowd clapped and waved, they knew that 6 June 1944, the greatest amphibious operation in history, had been a dangerous job well done.

(Photographs omitted)