More than 700 families send tributes from afar to honour D-Day heroes
More than 700 families stuck under coronavirus lockdown will receive help laying tributes at the graves of fallen war heroes in France to mark the anniversary of D-Day.
In stark contrast to 2019’s extensive 75th anniversary commemorations, this year’s remembrance of the crucial 1944 allied invasion of Normandy will be more muted.
Social distancing requirements and travel restrictions under the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic mean veterans and their families are forced to honour the fallen from afar on Saturday.
To support those unable to make the annual pilgrimage to France, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has been offering to place tributes at graves and memorials on their behalf.
Local gardeners for the CWGC, which maintains thousands of sites commemorating the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two World Wars, have been placing special markers at its main locations in Normandy to help honour those killed in fighting there.
The tributes bear the inscription “Their Name Liveth For Evermore”, a phrase chosen by the CWGC’s first literary adviser, the writer Rudyard Kipling.
Requests received before the end of May were due to be placed in time for Saturday.
The CWGC is still accepting requests until the end of this weekend, with gardeners aiming to complete placing them within the next two weeks.
Xavier Puppinck, CWGC’s France area director, said: “When we welcomed thousands of veterans and visitors to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we couldn’t have imagined how different things would be just one year later.
“While it is sad that we cannot host any large gatherings this summer to pay respect in person, we can still pause and remember.”
Commenting on the laying of tributes, he added: “We hope this small act from our local CWGC staff will show that, together, we can remember those who died in the World Wars forever.”
The CWGC’s efforts have received the backing of the UK’s Ministry of Defence, with ministers sharing on Twitter details of their requests for tributes to be laid for soldiers who came from the constituencies they represent as MPs.
On Saturday, the British Ambassador to France, Edward Llewellyn, alongside other British officials, will attend a small, short ceremony at the Bayeux Cemetery in Normandy.
Further small events will take place at other sites that will respect France’s coronavirus regulations.
The allied forces’ combined naval, air and land assault on Nazi-occupied France on June 6 1944 was codenamed Operation Overlord.
It was described by the then British 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.
Hundreds of requests for tributes to be laid by the CWGC have come from around the world, including the UK and Canada.
They include two from Dave Dykes, a retired teacher from Perth Academy in Scotland, who asked for a couple of former pupils to be honoured.
Lieutenant Ian Davidson Gilmour, whose parents were from Luncarty, Perthshire, was last seen suffering from machine-gun fire wounds on June 13 1944.
The 23-year-old, serving with the Gordon Highlanders, was injured on a reconnaissance patrol and had told a comrade to return to their unit to deliver the information they had been sent out to collect. Lt Gilmour was not seen again.
The other former pupil, Serjeant David H Laing, whose parents were from Almondbank, Perthshire, and who served with the Black Watch, was killed in action on June 10 1944, aged 30.
Current students from the soldiers’ school were disappointed not to be able to make a planned trip to France this month to visit the graves of former pupils.
The CWGC is also running a digital “Wall of Remembrance” on its website, where people can upload photos, stories and memories of those who lived through the hardships of the war.
More than a thousand digital tributes have already been shared since it was launched last month.
To post a message to the digital wall or request a tribute be placed in Normandy, which is free of charge, visit: www.cwgc.org/share-your-tribute.