Veterans mark 70 years since D-Day

Hundreds of Second World War veterans have begun commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings, with many crossing the Channel for what may be the last time.

William Ness, 12th Yorkshire Parachute Battalion, during a commemorative ceremony at Memorial Pegasus near Ouistreham, France, as veterans mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings during the Second World War
William Ness, 12th Yorkshire Parachute Battalion, during a commemorative ceremony at Memorial Pegasus near Ouistreham, France, as veterans mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings during the Second World War

More than 650 servicemen, most aged in their 80s and 90s, have travelled to northern France for two days of official ceremonies marking D-Day and the start of the liberation of Europe from Nazi rule.

The Prince of Wales, accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall, laid a wreath at Pegasus Bridge in Ranville, where British soldiers began the invasion after landing in gliders at 00.16am on June 6, 1944.

His hand-written note on the wreath said: "In ever-grateful remembrance of your service and sacrifice, Charles."

Cyril Cook, 91, a former lieutenant with the 12th Yorkshire Parachute Battalion, was amongst those dropped into France on D-Day.

After speaking to Charles today, Mr Cook, from Chester, said: "People often ask 'weren't you afraid?' What a stupid question!

"Of course we were afraid. But it was a job and you just got on with it."

US president Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron also paid tribute to the sacrifice of those who fought, during a summit of the G7 in Brussels.

Some 17,769 British soldiers who lost their lives during the invasion in 1944 are buried in Normandy.

Heads of state from 17 nations, including the Queen and Mr Obama, will gather tomorrow for the international ceremony at Sword Beach, the easternmost of the five landing sites.

Charles and Vladimir Putin will also be attending tomorrow's ceremony, in a potentially awkward encounter following Charles' recent remarks comparing the Russian president's actions in Ukraine with those of Adolf Hitler.

The eyes of the world will focus on Normandy this week for what is likely to be the last decennial anniversary involving troops who took part in the landings.

The Normandy Veterans' Association (NVA), whose numbers have fallen to around 600 from some 15,000, has announced it will disband in November.

Denys Hunter, 90, from Romsey, Hampshire, was in Normandy for the first time since he landed with the Hertfordshire Yeomanry on Gold Beach on D-Day.

"It's the last time I will ever get here," he said. "At 90 I've not got much chance to come again. I suppose I did leave it a bit late. But there you are."

One D-Day veteran today recreated his arrival in Normandy 70 years ago.

Scotsman Jock Hutton, 89, was one of the first Allied soldiers to land in Nazi-occupied western Europe, jumping with 13th (Lancashire) Parachute Battalion to secure Ranville, the first village liberated on D-Day.

Today, in a tandem jump with the RAF's Red Devils display team, he jumped from 5,000 feet on to the same drop zone.

After arriving on terra firma, Mr Hutton, who lives in Maidstone, Kent, joked that his only disappointment was the lack of Calvados on landing.

The Stirling-born former paratrooper said: "It was very humbling and I'm highly privileged to be here."

Asked to describe how he felt, he said: "Poetry." He went on: "I was very relaxed with all my companions in the aircraft, but I wanted to get out of that door."

Around 200,000 visitors are due in the region this week to mark the anniversary of the momentous events, according to local authorities.

Frenchwoman Arlette Gondree, who as a young girl was was in a cafe which became the first property in Normandy to be liberated by Allied troops on D-Day said: "There were many men who lost their lives and many young men who are now very old but we still love and remember them.

"They are the heroes."