United Kingdom

D-Day anniversary marked with socially-distanced ceremony as France bans gatherings of 10 people

The 76th anniversary of the D-Day landings was marked with a socially-distanced ceremony at the graves of fallen war heroes in France.

This year's remembrance of the 1944 allied invasion of Normandy was scaled back compared to 2019's extensive 75th anniversary commemorations.

Veterans and their families were forced to honour the fallen from afar today due to social-distancing requirements and travel restrictions amid the pandemic.

France's ongoing health regulations ban gatherings of more than 10 people, despite the country ending its strict two-month coronavirus lockdown nearly a month ago. 

The 76th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, today was a stark contrast to last year's 75th anniversary ceremony, as less than 20 people attended due to social-distancing and travel restriction during the coronavirus pandemic

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission described the midday ceremony as 'small but poignant'

British Ambassador to France Edward Llewellyn laying a wreath during the memorial ceremony at the Bayeux Cemetery in Normandy, France

Piper Jérôme Levannier says: 'It’s so quiet without the veterans. Normally the cemetery is packed with visitors'

The recently elected mayor of Bénouville, Normandy, Clémentine Le Marrec, 30, bemoaned the lack of British veterans able to attend the ceremony this year.

He said: 'It’s sad for us this year. Normally there are lots of our British friends here. It’s hard for us that they cannot be with us. 

'But it has made us realise we will have to find another way to remember them when they have all gone.

Piper Jérôme Levannier added: 'It’s so quiet without the veterans. Normally the cemetery is packed with visitors.

A French, Canadian and British flag hangs from a Bénouville house with photographs of those who lost their lives in the Battle for Normandy

Strict social distancing is observed during the British Memorial Ceremony to mark the 76th Anniversary of the D-Day landings

The tributes bear the inscription 'Their Name Liveth For Evermore', a phrase chosen by the CWGC's first literary adviser, the writer Rudyard Kipling

Jerome Levannier, a lone piper, plays Amazing Grace as he walks on Gold Beach in Arromanches to commemorate the 76th Anniversary of the D-Day landings

'It’s terrible they cannot be here,' he told The Observer. 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission said less than 20 people, attended the 'small, but poignant' ceremony at the Bayeux Cemetery in Normandy at midday.

These included the British Ambassador to France Edward Llewellyn, the former Downing Street Chief of Staff under David Cameron's government.

CWGC spokesman Peter Francis said it was a 'stark contrast' to the 2019 anniversary event, which saw about 4,000 people mark the occasion.

Colonel Howard Wilkinson stands amongst the graves at the Bayeux War Cemetery during commemorations for the 76th Anniversary of the D-Day landings

War graves seen during the memorial ceremony at the Bayeux Cemetery in Normandy, France, today

A Benouville resident watches outside his window today during the ceremony, displaying support for the British troops who lost their lives

He said: 'We knew fairly early on that was not going to be possible this year, but in some ways it made this D-Day anniversary more poignant because we felt we had to do something for the people who cannot travel here to feel connected.'

To support those unable to make the annual pilgrimage to France, the CWGC offered to place tributes at graves and memorials on behalf of veterans and their families.

Local gardeners for the CWGC, placed 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.

The British Normandy Memorial is being built at Gold Beach in Normandy, bearing an inscription from Sir Winston Church's speech from June 4 1940, which included the famous line: 'We shall fight on the beaches'

British Ambassador to France, Edward Llewellyn (centre left), lays a wreath during the British Memorial Ceremony

They maintain thousands of sites commemorating the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars.

Meanwhile, Second World War veterans whose anniversary trip to the new British Normandy Memorial was cancelled were provided with footage of the site to mark the day.

More than 70 veterans were due to visit the memorial, which is located near the French town of Ver-sur-Mer.

Instead, the British Memorial Trust released a video on Saturday showing its construction.

Winston Churchill's famous speech being carved at the new British Normandy Memorial which is under construction at the site of Gold Beach in Normandy, France

An artist impression issued by the National Memorial Trust of what the new British Normandy Memorial will look like when finished at the site of Gold Beach in Normandy, France

Lord Peter Ricketts, chairman of trustees at the Normandy Memorial Trust, said: 'We at the trust know how much the veterans and their families were looking forward to visiting the site around the time of the D-Day anniversary to see the memorial taking shape.

'We share their frustration that the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic have made that impossible.

'But the good news is that we are pressing on with real determination to complete the construction, despite all the obstacles.'

The video includes footage of carvers inscribing the words of Sir Winston Church's speech from June 4 1940, which included the famous line: 'We shall fight on the beaches'.

Len Gibbon, 96, (left) and Peter Hawkins, 95, (right) completed a 104-mile static bike ride for charity to mark the 76th anniversary of D-Day

The two veterans live at Care for Veterans, a care home for physically disabled veterans and their families

Mr Gibbon said 'bring on the dancing girls' when he completed his 104-mile re-enactment of the journey he took from Portsmouth to Normandy in 1944

Earlier today, two veterans of the Normandy beach landings completed a 104-mile static bike ride for charity to mark the 76th anniversary of D-Day.

Len Gibbon, 96, began his bike ride on VE Day and finished his journey alongside fellow Normandy veteran Peter Hawkins, 95, today.

Mr Gibbon has raised £6,000 so far and his 104-mile journey is the same distance as the journey from Portsmouth to Gold Beach that he undertook in 1944.

James Bacharew, head of fundraising and marketing at Care for Veterans, said Mr Gibbon and Mr Hawkins were both 'elated' to have completed the challenge.

'It has been inspirational to see them at their age get up and get out and cycle every day to reach the distance,' Mr Bacharew said.

'Len said: "Bring on the dancing girls" and that "his is a large scotch" as he finished.'

The elite bands of brothers who were the first troops into Normandy on D-Day

Operation Overlord saw some 156,000 Allied troops landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

It is thought as many as 4,400 were killed in an operation Winston Churchill described as 'undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place'.

The assault was conducted in two phases: an airborne landing of 24,000 British, American, Canadian and Free French airborne troops shortly after midnight, and an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armoured divisions on the coast of France commencing at 6.30am.

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history, with over 160,000 troops landing. Some 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved. 

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history, with over 160,000 troops landing. Some 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved.

The landings took place along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

The assault was chaotic with boats arriving at the wrong point and others getting into difficulties in the water.

Destruction in the northern French town of Carentan after the invasion in June 1944

Troops managed only to gain a small foothold on the beach - but they built on their initial breakthrough in the coming days and a harbour was opened at Omaha.

They met strong resistance from the German forces who were stationed at strongpoints along the coastline.

Approximately 10,000 allies were injured or killed, inlcuding 6,603 American, of which 2,499 were fatal.

Between 4,000 and 9,000 German troops were killed - and it proved the pivotal moment of the war, in the allied forces' favour.

The first wave of troops from the US Army takes cover under the fire of Nazi guns in 1944

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