D-DAY LANDINGS 60TH ANNIVERSARY: The Great and the Humble Honour the Heroes of 1944; Queen Leads Tribute on Normandy Beach
HEROES of the liberation of Europe were joined by a host of world leaders yesterday as tens of thousands of people -across northern France and beyond -paid tribute to the courage of servicemen on the 60th anniversary of D-Day. British veterans,many taking a final opportunity to revisit the scene of the historic invasion, took part in commemorative events as they honoured those lost in the pursuit of freedom. Others made personal pilgrimages to sites throughout Normandy to recall their memories of friends who never returned from the battlefields. Yesterday afternoon,hundreds of former soldiers, sailors and airmen proudly marched before the Queen as anniversary events reached a poignant and moving climax on the seafront of Arromanches, where many British troops had come ashore in 1944.
In a heartfelt tribute to the veterans,many now in their 80s and 90s, theQueen said: ``Thank you on behalf of the whole nation.''
The weekend's events marked the final time most of the men will return to the stretch of French coastline where they fought the bitter battle that helped free Europe from Nazi tyranny.
With thousands of local people, soldiers and visiting dignitaries looking on, theQueen added: ``Their sacrifice must never be forgotten.
``What for you is a haunting memory of danger and sacrifice one summer long ago is for your country and for generations of your countrymen to come,one of the proudest moments in our long national history.
``I take it upon myself to express the immense debt of gratitude we owe to you all.'' Some 156,000 Allied troops landed on the five invasion beaches on June 6,1944,in an operation which wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill described as ``undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place''.
It marked the beginning of an 80-day campaign to liberate Normandy which involved three million troops and cost the lives of 250,000 people.
Earlier,in a stirring international ceremony at Arromanches,close to the Gold landing beach,French President Jacques Chiracpresented the Legion d'Honneur medal to 14 representatives of the allied nations. Following a 21-gun salute from the French frigate Cassard,a total of 142 Allied veterans received thunderous applause as they led a parade before a host of heads of state. Fourteen of the veterans -one each from Britain, theUSA, France,Belgium,Australia, Canada,Greece,New Zealand, Poland, theCzech Republic, Slovakia, theNetherlands, Norway,and Luxembourg -remained on the parade ground to receive medals from President Chirac.
The Queen,Prime Minister Tony Blair,Mr Chirac,US president George Bush and Russia's Vladimir Putin were among those who gave the heroes a spontaneous standing ovation. For the first time,Germany was represented by its leader at the official ceremony.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that the invitation proved that the shadow of war had finally been lifted from his country.
Mr Chirac told the ceremony at Arromanches: ``We hold up the example of Franco-German reconciliation to show the world that hatred has no future, that a path to peace is always possible. …