80 years on, Britain promises to 'always remember' D-Day

By Dylan Martinez, John Irish and Lucien Libert

PORTSMOUTH, England/MERVILLE, France (Reuters) -Britain and France paid tribute on Wednesday to those who took part in D-Day, promising to "always remember" the sacrifices made by the Allied soldiers who invaded France by sea and air to drive out the forces of Nazi Germany.

With guests waving British flags, appearances from veterans, recollections and readings - and some tears in Queen Camilla's eyes - the British ceremony took place in Portsmouth, the main departure point for the 5,000 ships that headed to Normandy for the June 6, 1944, operation.

"Today we come together to honour those nearly 160,000 British, Commonwealth and Allied troops who, on 5th June 1944, assembled here and along these shores to embark on the mission which would strike that blow for freedom and be recorded as the greatest amphibious operation in history," King Charles said.

"Let us, once again, commit ourselves always to remember, cherish and honour those who served that day and to live up to the freedom they died for."

About 4,400 Allied troops died on D-Day.

"War is a nonsense, really. But in this case, it was necessary," said Royal Navy veteran gunner Bob Gravells, who ferried troops to the Normandy beaches.

"I'm proud that I played a very small part in freeing Europe. A very small part," Gravells, 99, told Reuters in Normandy.

The main ceremonies will take place in France on Thursday with world leaders and royalty including U.S. President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Britain's king and queen.

With war raging in Ukraine, on Europe's borders, this year's commemoration will carry special resonance.


British and U.S. veterans were already assembling on Wednesday near Benouville Bridge, codenamed Pegasus Bridge during D-Day. Thousands of tourists also gathered along the D-Day beaches and visited World War Two cemeteries. Collectors drove army jeeps, and U.S., Canadian, British and French flags adorned buildings.

Nearby in Merville, where the British 9th airborne parachute regiment launched an assault to take a German battery to facilitate the arrival of troops from Sword beach, hundreds of soldiers and tourists took part in a solemn ceremony.

According to officials, only one man from that regiment is still alive and is now too frail to travel.

Local people determined to keep alive the memory of the June 6 landings dressed in uniforms from the period to represent the various units that took part in the assault.

"These men came here to make the world a better, more peaceful place," said Paul Hill, president of 9th batttalion regiment association.

"Sadly after 80 years we have lost our veteran friends one by one," he said. "Their stories are still with us and must be passed on."

Macron paid tribute on Wednesday to French resistance fighters in Brittany and to civilian victims of Allied bombardments carried out as part of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.

(Reporting by Dylan Martinez in Portsmouth, Michael Holden in London, John Irish, Elizabeth Pineau, Lucien Libert in Normandy, Writing by Ingrid Melander, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Gareth Jones)