Over 300 British veterans of the battle of Normandy – one in four of those still alive – joined the Queen in a war cemetery in Bayeux today to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Four British World War Two aircraft, a Lancaster, two Spitfires and a Dakota, flew low over the cemetery the very second that the Queen entered the main gate – a piece of organisation and timing worthy of D-Day itself.
The Queen, dressed in a high-visibility lime green coat and hat, laid a wreath for the 22,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the three-month campaign which followed the seaborne invasion of the Norman coast on 6 June, 1944.
Earlier, hundreds of people lined the streets of Bayeux to applaud and cheer the British veterans as they made their way – many in wheelchairs, others on foot – from the town’s cathedral to the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in Normandy. The ceremony, organised on 6th June every year by the British Legion, was also attended by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, the deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg and the French, Australian and New Zealand prime ministers.
Ted Hoskin, 88, from Plymouth, who was a “boy sailor” on a hospital ship off the Norman coast on D-Day said: “Do you know, this is the first time I have been back in all these years? I wanted to come back before it was too late. To have the Queen here too – and all these people cheering us – has made it a wonderful day. A sad day, but a wonderful day.”
Around 400 Commonwealth Normandy veterans – including about 50 from Australia and New Zealand – sat in a circle around the Cross of Remembrance, the superimposed sword and crucifix which stands in every Commonwealth military cemetery. The Queen laid a wreath, followed by the French prime minister, Manuel Valls.
In pictures: D-Day 70th anniversary
In pictures: D-Day 70th anniversary
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British World War II veteran Frederick Glover stands as soldiers parachute down during a D-Day commemoration paratroopers launch event in Ranville, northern France
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D-Day veterans (L-R) Wally Beale (90), Doug Lakey (94), Bernie Howell (89), Bob Conway (88), George French (88), Gordon Smith (90), and Albert Williams (96), from the Royal Wootton Bassett Normandy Veterans Association share a joke during a group photograph on sword Beach after the Royal Artillery Commemoration Parade and service in Hermanville, France
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French Prime minister Manuel Valls (L), British Prime Minister David Cameron (C) and his wife Samantha Cameron (R) at the D-Day commemoration ceremony at the Cathedral in Bayeux, Normandy
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Prince Charles reacts as he watches teams of French, US, Canadian and British paratroopers jumping from aeroplanes during a D-Day commemoration in Ranville, northern France
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D-Day veteran Bill Price (99) who celebrates his 100th birthday on 24 July stands on Gold Beach for well wishers after the last ever flag raising ceremony by the Surrey Normandy Veterans Association in Arromanches Les Bains, France
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Veteran Frederick Carrier (89) who served in the 1st Engineer Special Brigade of the U.S. Army and landed at Utah Beach on D-Day, prays for the 171 men of his unit who died at a monument to them at Utah Beach, France
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D-Day veteran Jack Hamlin (93) who served in Rescue Flotilla Number One of the U.S. Coast Guard, took part in the invasion landing at Omaha Beach and is from Springfield, Missouri, attends the U.S. D-Day Ceremony at Utah Beach, France
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A D-Day re-enactment enthusiast wears the American flag at a re-enactment camp near Utah Beach in Sainte Marie du Mont, France
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British World War II veteran Jock Hutton (89), poses following his landing after he and teams of French, US, Canadian and British paratroopers jumped from aeroplanes during a D-Day commemoration in Ranville, northern France
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The Red Arrows display team perform over Southsea Common at the end of a commemoration service of the D-Day landings in Portsmouth, England
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Queen Elizabeth II (L) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (3L) are welcomed by French President Francois Hollande (2L) and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Laurent Fabius (R) at the Elysee Presidential Palace as part of a bilateral meeting during an Official visit in Paris ahead of the 70th Anniversary Of The D-Day in Paris, France
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The RAF's Red Arrows perform over Southsea Common in Hampshire, to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings
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A French man dressed in vintage military clothing drives an old American military jeep on the beachside in Arromanches-les-Bains, northern France
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Czech citizens Gallomichal Seznam and Zdznek Barchaler, dressed in old vintage military uniforms, walk on the beach in Arromanches-les-Bains, northern France
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British Marines and their Dutch counterparts demonstrate a beach assault near Southsea Common in Hampshire to mark the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings
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WW2 veteran Fred Holborn, from the Fleet Air Arm, salutes as he looks at British Legion Union flags carrying thank you messages planted in the sand on Gold beach near Asnelles, France. 20,000 paper flags are being planted. Each one carries a personal message of Remembrance submitted by Royal British Legion supporters
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A paratrooper lands on Sword Beach near international flags during a D-Day celebration rehearsal in Ouistreham, on the Normandy coast
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Helen Patton, granddaughter of General Patton, is parachuted during a US-German D-Day commemoration ceremony in honour of airborne soldiers in Picauville, northern France
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French 1st RCP paratrooper carrying US flag is seen over Sword beach in Ouistreham, northern France
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A Spitfire (R) and an "Eurfighter" both painted with invasion stripes fly over Sword beach in Ouistreham, northern France
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Queen Elizabeth II arrives at the Gare du Nord during an Official visit in Paris ahead of the 70th Anniversary Of The D-Day in Paris, France
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The Prince of Wales meets veterans near Pegasus Bridge during D-Day Commemorations in Ranville, France
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Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall meets veterans near Pegasus Bridge (Also known as the Benouville Bridge - The taking of the Bridge was an important strategic victory) during D-Day Commemorations in Ranville, France
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A US WWII veteran stands in front of US flags during a US-German D-Day commemoration ceremony in honour of airborne soldiers in Picauville, northern France
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US veteran Edward Oleksak looks on during a US-German D-Day commemoration ceremony in honour of airborne soldiers in Picauville, northern France
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World War II Allied members Canada's, United States', France's, and United Kingdom's flag hanging in Ouistreham, western France
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British and Canadian flags laid at a military cemetery in Ranville, northwestern France
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A British soldier pays his respects as he visits a military cemetery in Ranville, northwestern France
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A visitor examines a gravestone at the German Cemetery where approximately 21,000 German World War II soldiers are buried at La Cambe, France
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Normany veteran 90-year-old Geoff Pattinson sits at his home in London, England. On D-Day he set out in one of three gliders that were meant to crash land at the Merville battery and the troops were tasked with taking out the long range guns. However during the flight to France the tow rope snapped and the glider was forced to land in England. He flew again later that day and was a few weeks later was wounded in Normandy by a German machine gun. Asked what his most vivid memory of D-Day was he replied: 'Most of us thought we had landed in France. When we got out though, low and behold we were still in England and that was the anti-climax of my life. I couldn't believe we had missed our target and I couldn't believe we had landed in England'
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Normandy veteran 92-year-old Vera Hay stands outside the Grange Hotel in Grange over Sands in Cumbria, England. Vera, who was in the Queen Alexandras Royal Army Nursing Corps one of the first nurses to land at Normandy shortly after D-Day. Vera, who was a Junior Sister, then travelled 10 miles to the Chateau de Beaussy and took care of up to 200 injured soldiers a day. Asked what her most vivid memory of D-Day was she replied: 'The need of the casualties both our own troops and the German prisoners of war. They all were patients to us. They needed rehydration, rest, morphine to keep the comfortable and we were using the new penicillin'
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British World War II veteran Harry Humphreys (92) from the 4th Royal Dragoon Guard, reacts after his visit at Bayeux's war cemetery, while an old allied military vehicle passes by, in northern France
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Lewis Trinder formerly of the Royal Navy poses for photographs as he walks through Arromanches in Normandy, France
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Soldiers travelling on a vintage jeep cross Pegasus Bridge (also known as the Benouville Bridge) during D-Day Commemoration in Ranville, France
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Pipers march past Cafe Gondree, the Pegasus Bridge Cafe, the first house in France to be liberated during the last hour of 5 June 1944, during D-Day Commemorations in Ranville, France
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British soldiers stand next to their weapons placed on the ground, in front of Bayeux's war cemetery, northern France
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Italian and British military enthusiasts watch from Utah beach as Dakota aircraft flypast near Saint Marie du Mont, France
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World War II veteran Charles Alford of the 6th Armor Division, from Waco, Texas, climbs the stairs with his son David on Omaha Beach where he landed as part of the invasion of Normandy in Vierville-Sur-Mer, France
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British World War II veteran reacts as he visits the war cemetery of Ranville, northwestern France
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Paul Clifford (70) from Boston stands after placing flowers on the grave of Walter J. Gunther Jr, the uncle of his best friend, in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, in Colleville sur Mer, France
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Harry Grew (92) who was in the Royal Navy, gets fussed by the Candy Girls, (R) Elkie Jeffery (L) Freyja Sculpher and Debbie Watt on board the Brittany cross channel ferry Normandie, travelliing from Portsmouth to Caen in Portsmouth, England
The Bayeux war cemetery contains 4,648 graves, including 3.935 British soldiers – almost a quarter of the 17,000 British troops who died in Normandy between 6 June and 20 August 1944. On the ceremonial arch beside the cemetery entrance are, engraved the Latin words “Nos a gulielmo victi victoris patriam liberavimus”: “We, who were conquered by William, have liberated William’s homeland.”
The cemetery, one of the most beautiful of the many Commonwealth war cemeteries in France, looked even more resplendent than usual today. Every single gravestone has been replaced in the last few months – part of a drive by the Commonwealth War Graves’ Commission to prepare cemeteries for the D-Day and World War One anniversaries.
The turnout of British veterans was the largest since the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004. It is estimated that there are now only 1,200 British Normandy veterans, and maybe 500 British D-Day veterans, still alive.
A good proportion seemed to have found their way to Bayeux today, many surrounded by children and grandchildren. Every man had a story to tell.
Geoffrey Moss, 89, from Gloucester, was one of the first British soldiers ashore on Gold Beach, with the Durham Light Infantry at 7am on 6 June 1944.
“Someone was killed to the right of me. Someone was killed to the left of me. Somehow I survived,” he said. “We fought our way three miles inland that day. I had a second lucky escape. I was assembling one of the bicycles they had given us when a bullet struck the frame and deflected away. Even the bicycle wasn’t hurt too badly.”
The Queen and the Prime Minister chatted with veterans after the service.
Earlier, as he arrived, Mr Cameron, approached at random a member of the crowd.
“Where are you from?” Mr Cameron asked. “From Belgium,” the man said. “From Belgium, ah…” said the Prime Minister, evidently disappointed. No votes there then. He shook hands warmly and walked on.