ROBERT HARDMAN on the poignant 75th anniversary of D-Day

ROBERT HARDMAN on the poignant 75th anniversary of D-Day

Nearly a century apart in age yet bound by their determination to remember; if this week’s powerful and moving commemorations of the 75th anniversary

Why Baby Sussex will thrive with Meghan, the VERY modern mom
Sandymouth Beach: Wife watched as man was crushed to death by rock
Yob who pelted disbaled woman with eggs and flour in Suffolk says he’s too scared to leave home

Nearly a century apart in age yet bound by their determination to remember; if this week’s powerful and moving commemorations of the 75th anniversary of D-Day have had one over-arching theme, then it is embodied in the clutched hands of George Sayer, aged six, and D-Day veteran, John Quinn, aged 92.

The two met yesterday at the main British commemoration of that world-changing moment on June 6, 1944 when the liberation of Europe finally began.

Veterans, royalty and ministers had gathered in Bayeux where Mr Quinn had come to remember comrades buried in the Commonwealth cemetery. 

Tribute: George Sayer, six, with his great uncle’s beret and medals at the Commonwealth War Graves yesterday. Young George had come with his family to remember his great-uncle, also George Sayer, who had been in one of the first landing craft to reach Sword Beach that morning

Tribute: George Sayer, six, with his great uncle’s beret and medals at the Commonwealth War Graves yesterday. Young George had come with his family to remember his great-uncle, also George Sayer, who had been in one of the first landing craft to reach Sword Beach that morning

Tribute: George Sayer, six, with his great uncle’s beret and medals at the Commonwealth War Graves yesterday. Young George had come with his family to remember his great-uncle, also George Sayer, who had been in one of the first landing craft to reach Sword Beach that morning

Young George had come with his family to remember his great-uncle, also George Sayer, who had been in one of the first landing craft to reach Sword Beach that morning.

Sayer Snr survived the war but died in 2017. So George was wearing his beret and his medals yesterday. Thus the baton of remembrance has been passed. And what a lot this young man will have to remember after yesterday, not least the words of Frank Baugh.

The former Royal Navy signalman from Doncaster had been invited to read a ‘D-Day Testimony’ at the principal British service of commemoration. And he had written it himself.

At the last minute, he dispensed with his script and spoke from the heart about landing early on D-Day with a ship full of soldiers from the King’s Own Shropshire Light Infantry: ‘My most abiding memory of that day is seeing our boys we had been talking to the minute before.

Nearly a century apart in age yet bound by their determination to remember; if this week’s powerful and moving commemorations of the 75th anniversary of D-Day have had one over-arching theme, then it is embodied in the clutched hands of George Sayer, aged six, and D-Day veteran, John Quinn, aged 92

Nearly a century apart in age yet bound by their determination to remember; if this week’s powerful and moving commemorations of the 75th anniversary of D-Day have had one over-arching theme, then it is embodied in the clutched hands of George Sayer, aged six, and D-Day veteran, John Quinn, aged 92

Nearly a century apart in age yet bound by their determination to remember; if this week’s powerful and moving commemorations of the 75th anniversary of D-Day have had one over-arching theme, then it is embodied in the clutched hands of George Sayer, aged six, and D-Day veteran, John Quinn, aged 92

‘They got cut down with machine gun fire. They would fall into the water, floating face down and we couldn’t get them out.

“We couldn’t help them. That is my most abiding memory and I can’t forget it.’

Then he paused and said: ‘Thank you for listening to me.’

Even the flintiest old soldiers were finding this pretty tough. Many people were in tears, the Duchess of Cornwall among them.

Here was an immensely dignified 95-year-old Yorkshireman standing in the middle of 4,800 graves in the largest Commonwealth cemetery in Normandy, talking without a note – let alone an autocue – as he addressed the Prince of Wales, the Government, hundreds of veterans and their families (including his own baby great-granddaughter) and millions of television viewers about the day he and his pals helped liberate Europe. And he was thanking us?

There have been so many outstanding moments in the run-up to this 75th anniversary of D-Day but this ranked among the best of them.

Sayer Snr survived the war but died in 2017. So George was wearing his beret and his medals yesterday. Thus the baton of remembrance has been passed. And what a lot this young man will have to remember after yesterday, not least the words of Frank Baugh

Sayer Snr survived the war but died in 2017. So George was wearing his beret and his medals yesterday. Thus the baton of remembrance has been passed. And what a lot this young man will have to remember after yesterday, not least the words of Frank Baugh

Sayer Snr survived the war but died in 2017. So George was wearing his beret and his medals yesterday. Thus the baton of remembrance has been passed. And what a lot this young man will have to remember after yesterday, not least the words of Frank Baugh

So, too, did the sight of hundreds of veterans queuing up yesterday in Bayeux to lay their wreaths at the Cross of Sacrifice, before saluting. As the choir sang The Lord’s My Shepherd, a few old chaps were simply unable to contain their emotions.

Yet another great moment was last night’s carnival atmosphere in the little town of Arromanches, where crowds cheered the veterans through packed streets before listening to D-Day veteran Jim Radcliffe sing his new hit single, On The Shores of Normandy. 

Sir Rod Stewart is among those who have raved about this beautiful ballad, based on Mr Radcliffe’s experience as a 15-year-old D-Day cabin boy. The people of Arromanches certainly concurred.

Every bit as poignant was the magnificent scene with greeted us as D-Day dawn rose crisp and clear above Gold Beach. There, bathed in the morning sun alongside a poppy field in full bloom, was the new statue which will stand at the centre of the glorious Normandy Memorial.

For many months, this newspaper has been urging people to support a monument that is long overdue. All the other allied nations have a national memorial in Normandy but Britain has nowhere which commemorates all the 22,442 British servicemen and women who died here during nearly three months of intense warfare.

For many months, this newspaper has been urging people to support a monument that is long overdue. All the other allied nations have a national memorial in Normandy but Britain has nowhere which commemorates all the 22,442 British servicemen and women who died here during nearly three months of intense warfare

For many months, this newspaper has been urging people to support a monument that is long overdue. All the other allied nations have a national memorial in Normandy but Britain has nowhere which commemorates all the 22,442 British servicemen and women who died here during nearly three months of intense warfare

For many months, this newspaper has been urging people to support a monument that is long overdue. All the other allied nations have a national memorial in Normandy but Britain has nowhere which commemorates all the 22,442 British servicemen and women who died here during nearly three months of intense warfare

Theresa May arrived with French president Emmanuel Macron, to inaugurate it formally. The project has been driven by a handful of veterans led by George Batts, late of the Royal Engineers, who solemnly told both leaders that this project remains the dearest last wish of so many veterans. 

Mrs May said: ‘These young men belonged to a very special generation, the greatest generation. A generation whose incomparable spirit shaped our postwar world. They didn’t boast. They didn’t fuss. They served.’

In his speech, Mr Macron was forceful in his support for the memorial.

‘It is intolerable the sacrifices made by these young people be erased from collective memory,’ he said, adding that the ‘bonds of blood’ between Britain and France would far outlast Brexit or, as he put it, ‘current events’ and ‘debates taking place today’.

Mr Macron ended by paraphrasing Winston Churchill – in English – as he said: ‘We owe our freedom to our veterans. We will never surrender. We will always stand together because this is our common destiny.’

That was especially appropriate given that the Churchill family were among the guests. ‘My great-grandfather would have had a tear in his eye watching this,’ Randolph, 54, told me. 

His own son, 12-year-old John, had been chosen to lay a wreath with the group of veterans in attendance. ‘An amazing honour,’ he said afterwards.

The veterans felt much the same about having Churchill’s great, great grandson in their midst. Here, again, was another bridge across the ages which neither side will forget.

Mr Batts and his sturdy band of ex-warriors had been up at the crack of dawn to witness this moment for which they have campaigned so hard. They were then supposed to travel just eight miles to join the other guests of honour at the principal British commemorative event in Bayeux. Sadly, bovine French security and a series of roadblocks made this impossible.

The only VIPs who were granted police escorts or allowed down sealed-off roads yesterday were politicians.

Having abandoned my car a mile outside Bayeux, I arrived on foot just in time for the main national event at the city’s Commonwealth cemetery. The veterans from the Royal British Legion cruise liner, Boudicca, had just managed to get through.

The veterans accept that this may have been a final farewell to the chums who never came home. All they want now is for the likes of little George Sayer and his entire generation to keep that flame alive

The veterans accept that this may have been a final farewell to the chums who never came home. All they want now is for the likes of little George Sayer and his entire generation to keep that flame alive

The veterans accept that this may have been a final farewell to the chums who never came home. All they want now is for the likes of little George Sayer and his entire generation to keep that flame alive

All told, about 300 of the D-Day generation joined Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, along with the Prime Minister and other political leaders. They were welcomed by the Chaplain General to the Armed Forces to a service which opened with a recording of that epochal BBC announcement: ‘D-Day has come.’ There were also readings from Mrs May and the Mayor of Bayeux – the first French city to be liberated.

Yet it was the words of the unassuming Frank Baugh which melted the entire assembled company, not to mention those watching at home. 

The Legion had invited him to deliver his ‘D-Day Testimony’ and he talked engagingly about his early years in the Royal Navy, before being sent across to the United States to pick up an LCI 380 large infantry landing ship.

These were big, flat-bottomed things that ‘bobbed around like a cork’.

‘I wouldn’t recommend them for cruising,’ he added. By now, he was straying from off his text in the order of service, not that anyone cared.

As he landed on an anonymous stretch of sand – ‘we didn’t know the beach but it was a hot one’ – his ship took a direct hit. Many of his cargo, the 2nd Battalion The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, were wounded but still gallantly insisted on charging ashore. As he thanked us all for listening to his story, there came something highly irregular at a military remembrance service: warm applause.

Every bit as poignant was the magnificent scene with greeted us as D-Day dawn rose crisp and clear above Gold Beach. There, bathed in the morning sun alongside a poppy field in full bloom, was the new statue which will stand at the centre of the glorious Normandy Memorial

Every bit as poignant was the magnificent scene with greeted us as D-Day dawn rose crisp and clear above Gold Beach. There, bathed in the morning sun alongside a poppy field in full bloom, was the new statue which will stand at the centre of the glorious Normandy Memorial

Every bit as poignant was the magnificent scene with greeted us as D-Day dawn rose crisp and clear above Gold Beach. There, bathed in the morning sun alongside a poppy field in full bloom, was the new statue which will stand at the centre of the glorious Normandy Memorial

Afterwards, the veterans retreated to a giant marquee for sandwiches and tea with the Prince and the Duchess. There, Mr Baugh was proud to introduce four generations of his family, including his 11-month-old great-granddaughter, Leighton.

He was modest about his speech. ‘I just decided to tell it how it was,’ he told me, adding that D-Day was just the first of more than 100 beach landings during the Normandy campaign. 

‘You don’t want to hear how we dealt with mines,’ he added, before giving me a hair-raising account of being dangled over the side so he could gently push German mines away from the hull with his feet. I hope they invite him back next time to tell that story.

The Prince was paying no attention to the clock as he toured the entire tent, along with the Duchess. 

She admitted she had spent much of the day blinking hard, not least because it reminded her so much of her late father, Major Bruce Shand, double winner of the Military Cross.

The Prince made a detour to inspect an exhibition on the new Normandy Memorial. As its royal patron, he is looking forward to unveiling it when the time comes. ‘We must raise the money,’ he told the trustees. ‘It matters so much to these men.’

It certainly does. Earlier the Prince told the BBC’s Sophie Raworth that this anniversary was ‘probably the last chance to pay everlasting respect’ to such a ‘remarkable’ band of brothers.

That may explain why this year’s events have been the most intensely emotional anyone can recall over the many years of these commemorations.

The veterans accept that this may have been a final farewell to the chums who never came home. All they want now is for the likes of little George Sayer and his entire generation to keep that flame alive.

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 0
DISQUS: 0