READ IN FULL: King Charles' moving speech at 80th anniversary of D-Day landings

5 June 2024, 12:31 | Updated: 5 June 2024, 12:49

King Charles spoke of being "eternally in debt" of those involved in the allied D-Day landings
King Charles spoke of being "eternally in debt" of those involved in the allied D-Day landings. Picture: Alamy

By Flaminia Luck

King Charles has honoured the heroes of D-Day in his first public speech since being diagnosed with cancer at a commemorative event in Portsmouth.

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Charles' returned to public duties was brought forward by "about a month" due to him making a good recovery, according to the Times. The event was also attended Queen Camilla, Prince William and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The King was supposedly "adamant" that he would attend commemorations as it is the last milestone that D-Day veterans will be able to witness themselves.

In his speech, spoke of being "eternally" in debt of those involvled in the landings and that it was a "privilege" to hear their testimony.

He stressed that it is our "duty to ensure that we, and future generations, do not forget their service and their sacrifice in replacing tyranny with freedom."

The Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, went on to lay down the foundations for the Allied victory.

King Charles and Queen Camilla stands at a commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day
King Charles was introduced on stage by actress Dame Helen Mirren. Picture: Alamy
Charles and Camilla get emotional at the commemorative event
Charles and Camilla get emotional at the commemorative event. Picture: Getty

Here is his speech in full:

"Ladies and gentlemen, eighty years ago today Field Marshal Montgomery – Commander in Chief of the Allied Ground Forces – wrote in his message to all soldiers on the eve of D-Day:

‘To us is given the honour of striking a blow for freedom which will live in history; and, in the better days that lie ahead, men will speak with pride of our doings’.

"Today we come together to honour those nearly one hundred and sixty thousand 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.

"Those who gathered here in Portsmouth would never forget the sight. It was by far the largest military fleet the world has ever known. Yet all knew that both victory and failure were possible, and none could know their fate.

"Aircrew flying overhead, sailors manning warships; or troops in assault craft battering their way through the stormy swell to the shore; whether dropping by parachute, landing in a wooden glider, or taking that terrible leap of faith onto the beaches... all must have questioned whether they would survive and how they would respond when faced with such mortal danger.

A Normandy veteran attends the UK's national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day in Portsmouth
A Normandy veteran attends the UK's national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day in Portsmouth. Picture: Alamy

"The poet Keith Douglas, who was killed in action three days later, wrote of the embarkation:

'Actors waiting in the wings of Europe
we already watch the lights on the stage
and listen to the colossal overture begin.
For us entering at the height of the din
it will be hard to hear our thoughts, hard to gauge how much our conduct owes to fear or fury.'

"At this remove, eight decades later, it is a near impossible task to imagine the emotion of that day: the pride of being part of so great an enterprise, the anxiety of in some way not coming up to scratch, and the fear of that day being their last.

"I recently myself spoke to veterans who, to this day, remember with such heartbreaking clarity the sight of those many soldiers lying on the beach, who drowned before they could even engage in combat.

"The stories of courage, resilience and solidarity which we have heard today, and throughout our lives, cannot fail to move us, to inspire us, and to remind us of what we owe to that great wartime generation – now, tragically, dwindling to so few.

Read More: LIVE: King Charles to join veterans at D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations

The Prince of Wales speaks at the UK's national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day, hosted by the Ministry of Defence on Southsea Common in Portsmouth, Hampshire. Picture date: Wednesday June 5, 2024.
The Prince of Wales speaks at the UK's national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Picture: Alamy

"It is our privilege to hear their testimony, but our role is not purely passive: it is our duty to ensure that we, and future generations, do not forget their service and their sacrifice in replacing tyranny with freedom. Our rights, and the liberty won at such terrible cost, bring with them responsibilities to others in the exercise of that liberty.

"The Allied actions of that day ensured the forces of freedom secured, first, a toehold in Normandy, then liberated France, and ultimately, the whole of Europe from the stranglehold of a brutal totalitarianism.

"And as we remember, with humility, pride and gratitude, let us never forget that the soldiers who fought in the campaign launched from this place came from thirty nations, from across the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and Allied countries; while elsewhere in Europe Allied forces continued to make vital progress in their successful Italian campaign; and while halfway around the world, at that same moment, the critical battles of Imphal and Kohima raged on in what was then Burma.

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D-Day and Normandy veterans (left to right) Alec Penstone, 98, Gilbert Clarke, 98, Richard Aldred, 99, Henry Rice, 98, Donald Howkins, 103, Mervyn Kersh, 98, Stan Ford, 98, Ken Hay, 98, and John Dennett, 99
D-Day and Normandy veterans (left to right) Alec Penstone, 98, Gilbert Clarke, 98, Richard Aldred, 99, Henry Rice, 98, Donald Howkins, 103, Mervyn Kersh, 98, Stan Ford, 98, Ken Hay, 98, and John Dennett, 99. Picture: Alamy

"The 1944 Victoria Cross roll of honour includes Sikh, Muslim and Hindu soldiers – a reminder that events that year shaped our world then, and the society we share today.

"While it was the frontline troops who faced the greatest personal dangers, the privations and sacrifices of war were endured by so many more. The Allied victory was a truly collective effort, born of the fortitude and hard work of those who remained on the Home Front, toiling in factories, under our land in the mines, out in the fields, or working in secret – men and women alike.

Read More: Last of D-Day veterans in France to mark 80th anniversary of Normandy landings and pay tribute to fallen friends

(left to right) The Prince of Wales, King Charles III, Queen Camilla, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron
(left to right) The Prince of Wales, King Charles III, Queen Camilla, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron. Picture: Alamy

"Their collective industry, ingenuity and commitment helped our soldiers, sailors and airmen to prevail.

"So, as we give thanks for all those who gave so much to win the victory, whose fruits we still enjoy to this day, 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 by balancing rights with civic responsibilities to our country. For we are all, eternally, in their debt."

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Normandy Veteran Roy Hayward speaks on the stage at the event
Normandy Veteran Roy Hayward speaks on the stage at the event. Picture: Alamy

The D-Day commemorative event opened with a musical performance and a flypast of two historic Dakota military transport aircraft, widely used by the Allies during the Second World War.

Musicians from the Royal Marines Band Service, the Corps of Drums and the Bands of the Household Division performed together in a tri-service orchestra led by director of music Lieutenant Colonel Huw Williams, after a rousing chorus by the State Trumpeters.

Actress Dame Helen Mirren then took to the stage to formally introduce the event.

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