'Those who lost their lives will never be forgotten': World leaders commemorate D-Day
75 years ago today, Canadian, U.S., U.K. troops boarded flotillas for key assault on Nazi-occupied France
Queen Elizabeth was joined in Portsmouth, England, today by world leaders including U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, paying tribute to the veterans of the largest seaborne invasion in history that helped end the Second World War.
The Queen, Prince Charles, presidents and prime ministers rose to applaud veterans, their coats heavy with medals, as they stood on a giant stage beside a guard of honour after a film of the Normandy landings was shown.
"The wartime generation — my generation — is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today," said the 93-year-old Queen, wearing bright pink.
"The heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten. It is with humility and pleasure, on behalf of the entire country, indeed the whole free world, that I say to you all: thank you."
Under a hazy sky and with a brisk breeze flowing in from the harbour, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recounted the story of Lt.-Col. Cecil Merritt, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the raid on Dieppe two years earlier, which taught commanders many lessons they later used on D-Day.
"Although twice wounded, Lt.-Col. Merritt continued to direct the unit's operations with great vigour and determination," Trudeau said, reading from a citation in the London Gazette from October 1942.
"He then coolly gave orders for the departure, and announced his intention to hold off and 'get even with' the enemy. When last seen, he was collecting Bren and Tommy guns, and preparing a defensive position which successfully covered the withdrawal from the beach."
Watch as Trudeau recites citation of 1st Canadian to be awarded Victoria Cross in WWII:
More than 900 Canadians were killed at Dieppe in August 1942 and nearly 2,000 were captured, a loss that nonetheless helped D-Day planners better prepare for the real invasion of France.
On D-Day, 359 Canadians were killed and another 715 wounded or captured while more than 5,000 would die in fighting over the next two months.
French President Emmanuel Macron, Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Merkel, and leaders and senior figures from 10 other countries also attended.
Blood and thunder
In the early hours of June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied troops set off from Portsmouth and the surrounding area to begin the air, sea and land attack on Normandy that ultimately led to the liberation of western Europe from the Nazi regime.
By the time of the Normandy landings, Soviet forces had been fighting Germany in the East for almost three years, and Kremlin chief Josef Stalin had urged British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to open a second front as far back as August 1942.
The invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord and commanded by U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, remains the largest amphibious assault in history and involved almost 7,000 ships and landing craft along a 80-kilometre stretch of the French coast.
Shortly after midnight, thousands of paratroopers were dropped. Then came the naval bombardment of German positions overlooking the shore, and the infantry arrived on the beaches.
Mostly American, British and Canadian men, some just boys, waded ashore as German soldiers tried to kill them with machine-guns and artillery. Survivors say the sea was red with blood and the air boiling with the thunder of explosions.
The commemorations featured an hour-long performance recounting the wartime events and a flypast by historic, military aircraft. Afterwards, the Queen, Trump and other leaders met veterans of the landings.
Sixteen countries attended: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
They agreed a proclamation to "ensure that the unimaginable horror of these years is never repeated."
On Wednesday evening, some 300 veterans who took part on D-Day, all now older than 90, will leave Portsmouth on a specially commissioned ship, MV Boudicca, and retrace their 1944 journey across the English Channel, accompanied by Royal Navy vessels and a lone wartime Spitfire fighter plane.
Ceremony in France
Meanwhile, in Normandy, British air assault troops, French army paratroopers and D-Day veterans will recreate the airborne landings.
At 10 a.m., the focus shifted to the site where more than 2,000 Canadian soldiers are buried in France.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces were joined by Canadian leaders and students to honour them at the Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery.
"The reason why we are here is because of what you veterans did 75 years ago," Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay told the assembled crowd. "The achievements continue to fill us with pride to this day; the loss follows us forever. They sacrificed their future to liberate people who had been suffering for years under brutal occupation."
Trudeau is expected to join French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe at a ceremony at Juno Beach in France at noon.
CBC D-Day coverage
On Thursday, The National's Adrienne Arsenault will host D-Day coverage from the Juno Beach Centre in France.
The special begins at 5 a.m. on CBC-TV, CBC News Network and cbcnews.ca.
You can also watch it on CBC Gem, CBC News YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
The event will honour all Allied forces who fought in the 11-week Battle of Normandy, including the 50,000 who died. Several dozen Canadian veterans are expected to be there.
At 1:30 p.m., the coverage will shift to Halifax where Canada's biggest commemoration will happen at the Citadel National Historic Site.
Veterans of the Second World War will be in attendance and honoured.
With files from CBC News and The Canadian Press