Government denies D-Day party 'retreat': Criticised 'jamboree' becomes 'tribute' as ministers and veterans agree on August celebration featuring Dame Vera Lynn. James Cusick reports
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Wednesday 11 May 1994
Despite claims that a 'jamboree' in Hyde Park had been dropped after pressure from the Normandy Veterans' Association and the Royal British Legion, the department insisted that a celebration day out would still go ahead and, crucially, would involve Dame Vera Lynn.
Last month, John Major was under fire amid claims that the Normandy anniversary was being 'trivialised' by frivolous events such as spam-fritter cooking competitions and street parties. The Prime Minister, it was claimed, had misjudged public feelings about a battle that ended in heavy loss of life.
The heritage department said yesterday that after consulting with the Royal British Legion and the Normandy Veterans' Association, it had been agreed that a 'tribute' day would be held on 14 August, not the original date of 3 July. A spokesman for the department emphasised that the event, which would still be held in Hyde Park, would include Dame Vera. He said: 'Talk of her pulling out was only speculation. What she told us was that she would only take part if the veterans were happy. She said if they were happy, she was happy.'
The Royal British Legion said last night that it had welcomed the opportunity given by the heritage department to discuss the plans for 14 August in Hyde Park. 'The idea of a fitting tribute to those who took part in the Normandy campaign in Britain and in France is one which we find acceptable.'
The shift from jamboree to tribute has the hallmark of delicate political diplomacy over an issue which greatly embarrassed the Government.
However, Mr Major's D-Day problems may not be over. A heritage department spokesman insisted the Hyde Park day out would still have to incorporate elements which had appeal for the young. 'Education' would be emphasised for those unaware of the significance of the sacrifices of the Normandy campaign. There would still be a big band concert and Ensa-style entertainment. However, the other side-shows will be unlikely to incorporate any mention of spam fritters. The shift to August, which will mark the end of the two-and-a-half month Normandy campaign, was central to the case put by veterans to Iain Sproat, the heritage minister.
The 6 June commemorations, marking the beginning of Operation Overlord, which the national heritage department of said were always intended to be more sombre and formal, will go ahead as planned.
Under the command of US General Dwight D Eisenhower, the D-Day armada, the largest invasion fleet in military history, conducted an amphibious landing on the northern coast of France.
The entire military operation lasted just over 10 weeks. The veterans had emphasised to Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, that he should concentrate any celebration on marking the conclusion of the Normandy campaign.
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