A MASS drop of parachutists and a beach “invasion” today marked the start of events in Normandy for the 65th anniversary of D-Day.
Veterans were gathering for memorial services at the Arromanches beaches where thousands of UK and Canadian troops came ashore on June 6, 1944, and during the following days.
US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Prince of Wales will attend ceremonies tomorrow with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Bayeux Cathedral and the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer near Omaha Beach.
Today’s events started with the parachute drop at the Pegasus Memorial in Ranville. Members of the Normandy Veterans Association also visited Pegasus Bridge to remember the Allied glider landings and parachute drops there.
This is the last visit to France as a group for the association and they will also attend a service and parade at Colleville-Montgomery.
The Royal British Legion, schoolchildren and veterans will lay a wreath at Bayeux International War Cemetery.
Later this evening there will be 25 simultaneous firework displays along the Normandy coastline followed by the illumination of Port Winston, a temporary harbour built by the British in Arromanches.
The day will end with a midnight vigil attended by Chief of General Staff General Sir Richard Dannatt at Pegasus Bridge.
A force of 130,000 Allied troops set off from England on June 5, 1944 and their arrival on the French coast was re-enacted today by a landing craft from 1 Assault Group Royal Marines in Port au Bessin.
British parachutists also leapt from a Dakota aircraft at 800ft. over the Pegasus Memorial which allowed the Allies to take the strategically important Pegasus Bridge near Caen.
Meanwhile, Barack and Michelle Obama are said to have declined a dinner invitation from Sarkozy and wife Carla, even though they are staying at the residence of the US Ambassador, yards from the Elysée apartments where the Sarkozys spend their weekends.
Mockery has so far greeted Sarkozy’s attempts for a “Barack and Sarko show” over the D-Day commemoration and Le Parisien newspaper yesterday said: “The palace is fearing a snub.”
“Sarkozy has pulled off a double hit: insulting Queen Elizabeth and exasperating Obama,” the Canard Enchaîné said.
One Welsh war veteran has cancelled his D-Day trip because he feels so insulted by the French snub of the Queen.
Douglas Jones, 85, who landed in Normandy as a motorcycle dispatch rider with the 51st Highland Division, had planned to join the veterans at Arromanches but will now stay at home instead and listen to it on the radio.
For more event info visit www.normandiememoire.com