Prince Charles has praised the “personal courage and sacrifice” of those who died in the D-Day landings as a new memorial was unveiled on the 77th anniversary of the operation.
Like many veterans of the landings, the heir to the throne was unable to attend the opening on a hillside overlooking Gold Beach at Ver-sur-Mer in Normandy, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Former soldiers who took part in the historic liberation mission instead gathered with their families at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on Sunday to watch the livestreamed event remotely on a large screen.
The Last Post was played at 11am and was followed by a two-minute silence.
In France, British and French wreaths were placed in front of the D-Day wall at the memorial as bagpipes played in the background.
The RAF’s Red Arrows then flew overhead in formation to mark the opening.
The £30m memorial, which was paid for by the UK government and benefactors records the names of 22,442 men and women under British command who fell on D-Day and in the Battle of Normandy.
Gold Beach was one of three where British forces landed on the morning of 6 June, 1944, to begin the liberation of western Europe.
In a recorded video message, the prince, who is patron of the Normandy Memorial Trust, said: “I particularly wanted to address my first remarks directly to those whose presence today, either in person or online, really matters the most.
“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.”
Charles added: “As I said when I first became aware of the plans for this long overdue British memorial, it has for many years been a concern to me that the memory of these remarkable individuals should be preserved for future generations as an example of personal courage and sacrifice, for the benefit of the wider national and, indeed, international community.”
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. “
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.”
Bob Gamble of the Royal British Legion said: “D-Day remains one of the most remarkable Allied wartime operations in history, and it is our great privilege to have brought so many of our Normandy veterans and their family members together to mark the 77th anniversary of the landings.
“It remains as important as ever for us to remember and pay tribute to the immense bravery and sacrifice shown by all who served and fell during the Battle of Normandy.”
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 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.