D-day 70th anniversary: Emotional veterans gather to begin Longest Day commemorations across historic sites of Normandy landings

Event today in Normandy marked the first Allied breakthrough on day of greatest ever military invasion

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of British D-Day veterans were in Normandy today for a series of events marking the 70th anniversary of the landings that changed the course of the Second World War.

A huge security operation has swung into operation as 17 heads of state, including the Queen, prepare to arrive in northern France tomorrow.

More than 650 ex-servicemen, the survivors of the survivors, are believed to have travelled to commemorate the invasion, described as the largest in military history.

In his role as colonel-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, the Prince of Wales met old troops of the Glider Pilot Regiment at Pegasus Bridge, marking the first assault of the D-Day invasion.

It was the incredible feat of flying immortalised in the 1960s film The Longest Day, during which a team of Horsa gliders silently landed to take the strategically-placed bridge and another nearby.

Led by Major John Howard, they captured the bridges after a 15-minute skirmish, in which two soldiers were killed and 14 wounded.

Prince Charles’ visit, in which he was accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall, began at the nearby Cafe Gondree, overlooking Pegasus Bridge, the first building to be liberated from Nazi-occupied France.

William Ness, 12th Yorkshire Parachute Battalion, is overcome during a commemorative ceremony at Memorial Pegasus near Ouistreham, France, as veterans mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings during World War II

They then walked across Pegasus Bridge and were guided to the Glider Pilot Memorial where veterans and serving members watched on, some clearly overwhelmed by emotion.

As a young girl, Arlette Gondree was in a cafe which became the first property in Normandy to be liberated by Allied troops on D-Day.

Today she gave her thanks to the last of the liberators as they marked the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

Veterans make their way across Pegasus Bridge during D-Day Commemorations on June 5, 2014 in Ranville, France

On the front of the Pegasus Bridge Cafe, also known as Cafe Gondree, is a sign which reads: “This was the first house in France to be liberated during the last hour of 5th June 1944 by men of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the British 6th Airborne Division under the command of Major R. John Howard.”

As old soldiers and their families sat outside the family cafe in the sunshine reminiscing about their war-time exploits, Mrs Gondree greeted them like old friends.

Flanked by former British soldiers Len Buckley and Bill Bray, she said: “There were many men who lost their lives and many young men who are now very old but we still love and remember them.

d-day-pegasus-bridge-2.jpg“They are the heroes. We are also a very loving family. We became absolutely together from the moment it happened on that evening in June, 1944.

“We have remained close ever since.”

The events at Pegasus Bridge came as world leaders, including Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, arrived in Normandy for the 70th anniversary.

A paratrooper lands on Sword Beach near international flags during a D-Day celebration rehearsal in Ouistreham, on the Normandy coast

An international ceremony will held be at Sword Beach, the easternmost of the five landing areas for Allied forces on D-Day.

Scottish veteran of the landings Jock Hutton, 89, will take part in a tandem jump with one of the Red Devils during a parachute drop at Ranville.

Mr Hutton, who was raised in an orphanage in Bridge of Weir, is one of the last D-Day veterans from his regiment - 13th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment.

Eighty-nine-year-old Roland Chaisson, and as a 19-year-old corporal, who stormed Normandy on D-Day


A midnight vigil will be held at Pegasus Bridge, marking the moment the gliders made their momentous landing to capture the structure.

Troops from 1st Battalion The Rifles and the Army Air Corps will march across the bridge to Cafe Gondree for a champagne toast and a midnight firework display.

Gravestones at the German Cemetery where approximately 21,000 German World War II soldiers are buried at La Cambe, France

Meanwhile, the Queen has set off for her state visit to France by train - after first celebrating the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Channel Tunnel.

Britain's ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts, has said the three-day tour is likely to have a “big impact”, and will feature the monarch and other senior members of the Royal Family attending various aspects of the D-Day commemorations.