More than 100 Normandy veterans gathered to watch the opening of a memorial dedicated to those who took part in the D-Day landings 77 years ago.
The British Normandy Memorial records the names of the 22,442 servicemen and women under British command who died during the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944.
Designed by British architect Liam O’Connor, the structure has been built at Ver-sur-Mer in France and its opening was livestreamed to those who cannot attend due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Veterans and their families gathered at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on Sunday to watch the event remotely on a large screen and to mark the 77th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
The Last Post was played at 11am and was followed by a two-minute silence.
Meanwhile, British and French wreaths were placed in front of the D-Day wall at the memorial in France as bagpipes played in the background.
The RAF’s Red Arrows then flew overhead in formation to mark the memorial’s opening.
British Ambassador to France Lord Llewellyn said: “So many veterans campaigned tirelessly for the British Normandy Memorial and I am honoured to open their memorial today and see their dream come to fruition.
“Behind every one of the 22,442 names etched on the stone is an individual story – a father, a son, a brother, a daughter, an uncle or a grandfather or a great grandfather.
“The memorial will be a permanent reminder of the sacrifice made by those who died, the debt we owe to them and the importance of teaching the next generation about what happened in Normandy 77 years ago.”
The memorial, which cost almost £30 million and was funded by the UK Government and private benefactors, stands on a hillside overlooking Gold Beach, one of three where British forces landed on the morning of June 6 1944 to begin the liberation of Western Europe.
The Prince of Wales, patron of the Normandy Memorial Trust, said he had wished to travel to France and spoke of his pride at opening the “remarkable” memorial.
He said in a video message: “I know just how much our incomparable veterans had hoped to be in Normandy today to see their memorial for themselves.
“Despite having to watch via satellite link, this in no way obscures the enormous regard, and admiration, in which we hold our veterans or diminishes our debt of gratitude to the more than 22,000 men and women whose names are now permanently inscribed in stone in this place of honour above Gold Beach.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also paid tribute to those who fought in D-Day, tweeting: “As General Eisenhower said, when Allied troops landed on Normandy’s beaches that June morning in 1944 the eyes of the world were upon them.
“The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere marched with them. 77 years on, we thank and remember them. ”
The memorial features the D-Day Sculpture by British sculptor David Williams-Ellis, the D-Day Wall featuring the names of those who fell on D-Day itself and, on 160 stone columns, the names of those others who lost their lives between D-Day and the Liberation of Paris at the end of August 1944.
The site also includes a French memorial dedicated to the memory of French civilians who died during the period.
George Batts, Normandy veteran patron of the Normandy Memorial Trust, said: “It really is a dream come true for a lot of us who never thought it would happen.
“It has been an ambition of mine for many years and to finally see the completed memorial is a wonderful moment. I am so proud.
“We left a lot of mates behind and now I know that they will never be forgotten.”