The Normandy memorial reflects our changing views about the war dead

As D-Day moves almost out of living memory, attitudes towards our war dead have changed. Where once we buried our soldiers where they lay, now we bring them home. Mary Dejevsky reports

Sunday 04 July 2021 21:30
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<p>David Mylchreest, a 97-year-old British veteran of the Normandy campaign, was the only veteran to attend the opening of the Normandy Memorial</p>

David Mylchreest, a 97-year-old British veteran of the Normandy campaign, was the only veteran to attend the opening of the Normandy Memorial

On 6 June, a small band of Britons joined a slightly larger band of French dignitaries for the opening of the UK’s only national memorial to one of the most ambitious and crucial operations of the Second World War, the Normandy landings. D-Day, as it became known, began 77 years to that day and marked the start of the long-awaited campaign to end the German occupation of northern France.

The significance of operation “Overlord” is not contested. The Allied landings on the Normandy beaches constituted the largest seaborne invasion in modern times. The campaign that followed culminated in the liberation of Paris by French and US forces on 25 August that year, and of Rouen by the Canadians five days later – both of which were crucial landmarks in the advance to Berlin and victory. Alas, the opening of the new memorial was not a ceremony to match that history, nor was it the ceremony that once might have been envisaged.

What should have been an emotional reunion of surviving veterans in the presence of national leaders from both countries, and a solemn celebration of a long hoped-for memorial, was effectively scuppered by Covid-19. The pandemic not only forced delay in the construction, but the anti-Covid rules still in place on both sides of the Channel meant that few could travel to France for the occasion.

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