FRENCH officials have offered to help pay for British D-Day veterans to travel to memorial ceremonies in Normandy, after the UK Ministry of Defence said it would not fund any more visits until 2044.
The MoD decision has been described as “shameful” and “an insult” by a French D-Day veterans’ association and has prompted the mayor of Arromanches, where the British came ashore at Gold Beach, to offer community funds for those who want to travel to future ceremonies
The ministry provides funding only for milestone years. The last was the 60th anniversary in 2004, when veterans received £330 each towards transport and accommodation. The next will not be until the 100th anniversary, in 2044.
Admiral Brac de la Perrière, president of memorial organising committee Normandie Mémoire, said: “I find it a shame that Britain does not help its last remaining veterans, who are 85 or 90 years old, to travel to France.
“It seems mean-spirited not to give a few pounds to these men who risked their lives. There’s a handful left, not hundreds of thousands of people.”
He said funding from Arro-manches was possible because of the income from the town’s D-Day landings museum, which attracts 300,000 visitors a year.
Serge Athenour de Gourdon, president of the D-Day Piper Association in Normandy, said the MoD’s policy was “shameful”.
“It lacks political courage,” he said. “It’s an insult to all those brave men and all those who resisted and made immense sacrifices; not just soldiers, but everyone. The cost is ridiculously small compared to the sums wasted by governments. It hides a much more worrying problem: loss of memory.”
Councillors in Arromanches expect about 50 veterans to take up the offer, which they estimate will cost about €600 per person. The exact sum available has yet to be confirmed and the handouts will depend on each veteran’s means.
Patrick Jardin, the mayor of Arromanches, told The Connexion: “An anniversary is an anniversary. For us, every June 6 is important; there’s no difference. Having to wait 10 or five years is arbitrary. Without the veterans, the June 6 ceremonies would be meaningless.”
An MoD spokeswoman said: “Officially, commemorations to mark events of national significance are held on their 25th, 50th, 60th and 100th anniversaries and these receive MoD funding. A review of defence spending is currently under way and it would be inappropriate to speculate on future funding decisions until it has concluded.”
She added that this was not a “hard and fast rule”, and there have been occasions when the MoD has commemorated other anniversaries. For example, this year the RAF has funded a number of events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Some 160,000 men from Britain, the US and Canada landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Historians estimate that up to 5,000 Allied troops died on the first day.