For the first time in 75 years, there will be no D-day veterans on the beaches of Normandy to mark the anniversary of the allied landings on Saturday.
Official commemorations have been cancelled except for a limited gathering of representatives from nine countries – including the British ambassador to France – for a short ceremony.
A year after the fanfare of the 75th anniversary of the 1944 landings that marked the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany, many of this year’s events will be relayed by livestream to the dwindling number of elderly former soldiers who took part in Operation Overlord.
A website will transmit events commemorating the day when 150,000 troops swarmed ashore at strategic points along 50 miles (80km) of France’s north-west coastline. That day in 1944 they were met with a hail of machine gun fire and bombardments, leaving 10,000 casualties, among them 2,500 dead.
Saturday’s commemorations will include a flypast by the French air force’s air acrobatic team, the Patrouille de France.
“Since 1945, every year we have paid homage to the men who fought for our freedom,” said Jean-Marc Lefranc, the president of the Comité du Débarquement (D-day Landing Committee). “This year, for the first time it will not be open to the public.”
Public gatherings of more than 10 people are banned in France under measures to combat coronavirus, which has claimed more than 29,000 lives across the country.
In villages up and down the Normandy coast, residents were invited to decorate their homes with allied flags, and church bells will ring at 6.44pm on Saturday.
The departmental council urged the public to “show veterans, and the younger generations whose liberty they won, that they are not forgotten”.
Ian Stewart, of the Spirit of Normandy Trust, which fundraises to provide financial support for D-day veterans, said: “It’s very sad, and the French are equally saddened by the fact we cannot be there. Nobody takes any pleasure from the restrictions.
“Every year counts. Last year, the 75th anniversary, was a bonus. The men are now all in their late 90s and they are struggling on.”
Penny Howard Bates’ father, Maj John Howard, was one of the first to land in France, at 16 minutes past midnight on 6 June 1944 onboard one of three gliders that came down in the dead of night, guided only by a stopwatch and a compass, in a field near a strategically vital bridge – now called Pegasus Bridge – at Bénouville. It was the first operation of D-day, a feat immortalised in the film The Longest Day.
Howard Bates, the patron of the Veterans Charity, which is holding a special 76th anniversary event on its website, said she had written to mayors in Normandy to tell them “they are in our hearts as we must carry out our commemorations apart on each side of the Channel this year”.
Kim Willsher, The Guardian, June 5 2020