These D-Day commemorations felt different


This was the day the world made a journey to towns across Normandy – those remarkable stories of bravery and acts of patriotism that have cemented D-Day in our consciousness, touching so many different nations.

From the 13 countries that made up those Allied troops for the landings, thousands of people gathered onto those wide sweeping beaches for ceremonial events, others crowded into their towns and villages wanting to say a more personal thank you.

But those who have been here for previous commemorations told me that this year has felt different, an added significance, with precious few veterans still with us.

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Whether it’s been the international diplomatic events which always add that extra focus onto moments like this, or more intimate events up and down the coastline, the elderly have been treated with so much love and respect.

At a ceremony in the small town of Asnelles to unveil a commemorative memorial for those who died from the 47 Royal Marine Commando, I spoke to Norman Ashford, a 99-year-old D-Day veteran from the Royal Marines. He couldn’t speak about what he saw on D-Day. Eventually he told me he was at least pleased that he had come.

D-Day veteran Norman Ashford
D-Day veteran Norman Ashford

Remarkably, at least three women came up once I had spoken to him to shake his hand and personally thank him because of what the actions of him and his friends had meant to their relatives 80 years ago.

More on D-day

As international leaders took to the stage, the veterans have been treated like the real superstars.

But not in their eyes. Repeatedly they want to bring it back to those who weren’t there.

Read more:
WW2 veteran dies on way to Normandy
D-Day veterans share their stories

Sunrise at Gold Beach
Sunrise at Gold Beach

Prince William speaks to Canadian veterans. Pic: AP
Prince William speaks to Canadian veterans. Pic: AP

The men I met felt lucky to have gone on to have really fulfilled and happy lives.

They made it home. They managed to have their own families. But their friends, who died on these beaches, were never able to fulfil those dreams.

Kneeling next to them the veterans I spoke to were quiet, more discrete in their message than the world leaders, but with no less conviction.

As they increasingly fade away they never want us to forget the freedoms that they fought for.

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