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Princess Anne smiles and laughs with D-Day veterans in emotional return to Normandy ahead of 80th anniversary

5 June 2024, 18:58 | Updated: 5 June 2024, 21:18

Princess Anne speaks to D-Day veterans

By Kit Heren

Princess Anne has spoken to D-Day veterans on their emotional return to Normandy ahead of the 80th anniversary of the Allied troops' landing in France.

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Attending an event at the Bayeux War Cemetery, the Princess Royal asked one former soldier how old he was when he joined the army, to which he replied "18".

She could also be seen taking a look at photos he showed to her, as he told her his father was in the army.

Speaking to another veteran, Anne said she had learned of the number of ships taking part in the D-Day landings, and it said it "really underlined" the role of the Merchant Navy, including laying buoys to help with the operation.

A group of 31 former servicemen made the crossing to France from Portsmouth on Wednesday, almost 80 years since they invaded the German-occupied coastline on June 6 1944 in a bid to wrest back control of the Second World War.

Read more: 'We're all eternally in their debt': King Charles honours D-Day heroes in first public speech since cancer diagnosis

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

Princess Anne speaking to a D-Day veteran
Princess Anne speaking to a D-Day veteran. Picture: LBC
Princess Anne speaking to a D-Day veteran
Princess Anne speaking to a D-Day veteran. Picture: LBC

This is likely to be the last time D-Day veterans will make the journey to France to pay tribute to their fallen friends, with many of the former soldiers now over 100 years old.

Anne joined veterans and their families at the Royal British Legion's service of commemoration at Bayeux, where the congregation was surrounded by the manicured graves of more than 4,000 military casualties.

Before the service, Anne chatted to Don Jones, 99, who served in the Royal Navy ferrying men and equipment on to Sword Beach.

She told the veteran that a reason she carries out her role "is because I meet people like you".

Mr Jones, from Mold, North Wales, was a 19-year-old Able Seamen with the Royal Navy and said he focused on his job on June 6 1944 as the cacophony of battle was so great.

He said after speaking to the princess: "I was in the Royal Navy on a tank landing craft, we took tanks and materials across and were dropping them off on Sword Beach. Then the following two months we were backwards and forwards with materials.

"I think on our third journey we brought prisoners back, and for the next two journeys after that, about 500 prisoners in all.

"It was so busy, I couldn't absorb everything that was going on, the noise was so great. The bigger ships with the huge guns were firing over us all the time, firing inland to try and clear the enemy positions."

A minute's silence was observed in remembrance of the fallen and readings were given of first-hand accounts of British Forces who were tasked during the Normandy Landings with taking the stretch of coastline codenamed Sword Beach.

Former RAF Sergeant Bernard Morgan was a code breaker who landed on Gold Beach in the early evening of D-Day and saw the grim sight of drowned servicemen.

The 100-year-old veteran, from Crewe, said after chatting with Anne, who was joined by her husband Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence: "The thing I remember was seeing all the dead bodies on the beach.

"They arrived in the morning in small landing crafts that brought them into seven or eight feet of water, so when they stepped off they went straight down and with all the equipment they couldn't get up."

During the journey two Normandy veterans on board the ferry laid a wreath at sea to remember those who did not make the journey before saluting to the Last Post.

Earlier, King Charles also honoured the heroes of D-Day in his first public speech since being diagnosed with cancer.

Speaking at a commemorative event in Portsmouth, the King called on everyone to "remember, cherish and honour those who served" on D-Day and to "live up to the freedom they died for by balancing rights with civic responsibilities to our country".

King Charles makes emotional speech at D-Day service

"We are all eternally in their debt," he said.

And Camilla was moved to tears by Royal Navy serviceman Eric Bateman, who delivered an emotional speech about landing on Utah beach.

Mr Bateman described how his friend Eric was killed during the invasion. He told the crowd: “So many men and women, including my dear friend Fred, joined up with me but unfortunately never made it.”

Charles and Camilla were introduced on stage by host Dame Helen Mirren to a standing ovation and applause from the crowd.

Delivering his speech, Charles said: "The stories of courage, resilience and solidarity which you 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."

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
King Charles and Queen Camilla stands at a commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day
King Charles and Queen Camilla stands at a commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Picture: Alamy
The Red Arrows perform a fly-past during the UK's national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day
The Red Arrows perform a fly-past during the UK's national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Picture: Alamy

The UK's national commemorative event is set to take place at the British Normandy Memorial in Ver-sur-Mer on Thursday, a memorial that contains the names of the 22,442 servicemen and women who fell during the historic D-Day landings.

It will be followed by an official international ceremony at Omaha Beach, the location of more than 2,500 American troop deaths.

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