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D-Day: 70 years on

Arlette Gondree of the Pegasus Bridge Cafe greets Bill Bray (left) and John Woodthorpe (right) as Normandy veterans arrive at Pegasus Bridge near Ouistreham, France, as veterans prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings during World War II. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday June 5, 2014. See PA story MEMORIAL DDay. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Arlette Gondree of the Pegasus Bridge Cafe greets Bill Bray (left) and John Woodthorpe (right) as Normandy veterans arrive at Pegasus Bridge near Ouistreham, France, as veterans prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings during World War II. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday June 5, 2014. See PA story MEMORIAL DDay. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Hundreds of Second World War veterans have begun commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings, with many crossing the Channel for what may be the last time.

More than 650 servicemen, most aged in their 80s and 90s, have travelled to northern France for two days of official ceremonies marking D-Day and the start of the liberation of Europe from Nazi rule.

The Prince of Wales, accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall, laid a wreath at Pegasus Bridge in Ranville, where British soldiers began the invasion after landing in gliders at 00.16am on June 6, 1944.

His hand-written note on the wreath said: “In ever-grateful remembrance of your service and sacrifice, Charles.”

Cyril Cook, 91, a former lieutenant with the 12th Yorkshire Parachute Battalion, was amongst those dropped into France on D-Day.

After speaking to Charles yesterday, Mr Cook, from Chester, said: “People often ask ‘weren’t you afraid?’ What a stupid question!

“Of course we were afraid. But it was a job and you just got on with it.”

US president Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron also paid tribute to the sacrifice of those who fought, during a summit of the G7 in Brussels.

Some 17,769 British soldiers who lost their lives during the invasion in 1944 are buried in Normandy.

Heads of state from 17 nations, including the Queen and Mr Obama, will gather today for the international ceremony at Sword Beach, the easternmost of the five landing sites.

Charles and Vladimir Putin will also be attending today’s ceremony, in a potentially awkward encounter following Charles’ recent remarks comparing the Russian president’s actions in Ukraine with those of Adolf Hitler.

The eyes of the world will focus on Normandy for what is likely to be the last decennial anniversary involving troops who took part in the landings.

The Normandy Veterans’ Association (NVA), whose numbers have fallen to around 600 from some 15,000, has announced it will disband in November.

One D-Day veteran yesterday recreated his arrival in Normandy 70 years ago.

Scotsman Jock Hutton, 89, was one of the first Allied soldiers to land in Nazi-occupied western Europe, jumping with 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion to secure Ranville, the first village liberated on D-Day.

Yesterday, in a tandem jump with the RAF’s Red Devils display team, he jumped from 5,000 feet on to the same drop zone. After arriving on terra firma, Mr Hutton, who lives in Maidstone, Kent, joked that his only disappointment was the lack of Calvados on landing.

The Stirling-born former paratrooper said: “It was very humbling and I’m highly privileged to be here.”

Around 200,000 visitors are due in the region to mark the anniversary, according to local authorities.

Don’t miss The News Letter’s ‘D-Day 70 years on’ supplement, pages 21-24 and 41-44 TODAY

 

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