The fallen heroes of D-Day, who fought in “one of the greatest battles for freedom this world has ever known”, have been honoured in moving ceremonies in Normandy.
At Bayeux Cathedral, Prime Minister Theresa May, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall gathered with Second World War veterans for a special service of remembrance on the 75th anniversary of the largest amphibious assault in history.
Tributes were paid to the courage of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to liberate Europe.
The 1,000-strong congregation declared in unison: “We shall remember them”, before a two-minute silence.
During the service, veteran Kenneth Hay, who was only 18 himself when he joined the daring military operation, read from the poem Normandy by Cyril Crain, who was also part of the Allied invasion.
Mr Hay’s reading began: “Come and stand in memory of men who fought and died.
“They gave their lives in Normandy, remember them with pride.”
Mr Crain landed at Juno Beach in June 1944, four days before his 21st birthday. He died in 2014, aged 91.
Bayeux, close to the northern French coast, was the first major place to be liberated, after the Allied forces invasion.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry also gathered in the historic setting.
Early on Thursday morning, Mrs May and French President Emmanuel Macron paid their respects to the fallen at Ver-sur-Mer, at the inauguration of the British Normandy Memorial overlooking Gold Beach, where many of the troops arrived on D-Day.
Funded by the Normandy Memorial Trust, the monument will list the names of all 22,442 members of the British armed forces who died in the Normandy campaign in summer 1944.
Mrs May, completing one of her last engagements as Prime Minister, paid tribute at Ver-sur Mer, saying: “It is incredibly moving to be here today, looking out across beaches where one of the greatest battles for freedom this world has ever known took place – and it is truly humbling to do so with the men who were there that day.
“It is an honour for all of us to share this moment with you.
“Standing here, as the waves wash quietly on to the shore, it’s almost impossible to grasp the raw courage that it must have taken that day to leap out from landing craft and into the surf – despite the fury of battle.”
She added: “If one day can be said to have determined the fate of generations to come – in France, in Britain, in Europe and the world – that day was June 6 1944.”
Mrs May said thank you to those who served during the D-Day landings.
“Here in Normandy, we will always remember their courage, their commitment, their conviction,” she said.
“And to our veterans, here in Normandy, I want to say the only words we can: thank you.”
The allied forces’ combined naval, air and land assault on Nazi-occupied France on June 6 1944 was codenamed Operation Overlord.
On 6 June 1944, Allied forces launched a combined naval, air & land assault on Nazi-occupied France, codenamed ‘Operation Overlord’.
Their courage, sacrifice and unconquerable resolve will never be forgotten. pic.twitter.com/altPd4hhHa
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) June 6, 2019
It was described by the then prime minister Winston Churchill as “undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place”.
It marked the beginning of an 80-day campaign to liberate Normandy, which involved three million troops and cost the lives of 250,000.
The start of the day was marked at 7.25am local time with the tradition of a lone piper playing a lament on the remaining Mulberry harbour in the town called Port Winston.
This signalled the minute the invasion began and the moment the first British soldier landed on Gold Beach.
Stood atop the structure, Pipe Major Trevor Macey-Lillie, of 19th Regiment Royal Artillery (The Scottish Gunners), performed Highland Laddie as crowds gathered on the beach below him and lined the promenade, applauding his performance.