France’s Freedom Flame arrives in UK as part of D-Day thank-you tour

France’s Freedom Flame has arrived in the UK on its way to the US as part of a tour to thank the two countries for their key roles on D-Day.

The flame, which normally resides on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc De Triomphe in Paris, has left its home for the first time in its 101-year history to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

It travelled across the Channel aboard a Brittany Ferries ship and was accompanied into Portsmouth, Hampshire, on Tuesday evening by classic vessels HMS Medusa, HSL 102 and MGB 81 as well as two Royal Navy P2000 patrol boats and the French schooner Etoile.

Flamme de la Liberte arrives in the UK
The flame is carried in a procession at Portsmouth after its journey by ferry from France (Ben Birchall/PA)

After arriving into port, it was greeted by a 20-person guard of honour made up of French and UK personnel as well as the Royal Marines Corps of Drums who performed a short procession to the terminal for a reception hosted by Portsmouth International Port, the Royal Navy, Royal British Legion and Brittany Ferries.

A brief ceremony was then held involving naval and civic officials, including Portsmouth Naval Base commander Commodore John Voyce, Portsmouth City Council’s Deputy Lord Mayor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Brittany Ferries chief executive Christophe Mathieu and Helen Patton, granddaughter of General Patton.

As it departed, the Royal Marines Corps of Drums performed a traditional Beating Retreat ceremony before the flame was taken to the D-Day Story museum in Southsea where it will be on public display before continuing its journey to Arlington, Virginia.

Councillor Vernon-Jackson said: “It is a huge privilege for the city to be the first place to welcome the flame and pay respects with a poignant tribute.

“It is important to learn lessons from the past, the value of countries coming together and for the next generation to play a part remembering momentous events and the impact that remains to this day.”

Cdr Voyce said: “The flame we welcome tonight is a symbol of liberty for all across the globe and it is poignant that the first time it has come to the UK is on the 80th anniversary of the liberation of France and mainland Europe that began on D-Day.

Flamme de la Liberte arrives in the UK
The Flamme de la Liberte will next travel to Arlington, Virginia, in the United States (Ben Birchall/PA)

“It is so important that the service and sacrifice made on that day, and all the days our nations have fought oppression, is remembered and honoured.

“On behalf of the UK military, veterans and our families, I welcome the La Flamme de la Liberte, and all that it signifies, to Portsmouth before it journeys across the Atlantic – itself the backdrop to acts of sheer bravery and sacrifice during World War Two – to rest at the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.”

Mr Mathieu said: “It is a great honour for Brittany Ferries to have carried the Freedom Flame across the Channel, a symbol of great respect and humblest thanks to all brave veterans who crossed the channel nearly 80 years ago.

“Today, those arriving in Normandy by sea are faced with sweeping golden sands, full of happy families making joyful memories. But those very memories are thanks to freedoms we must never take for granted and the sacrifices we must never forget.”