Normandy prepares for last major D-Day commemorations

The small town of Carentan has been especially busy, organising poppy cascades and a display of knitted soldiers

Elderly French women looking at knitted D-Day scene
French Battle of Normandy survivors with scenes depicting their childhood meeting with US troops.

Towns and villages are buzzing with activity in preparation for the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the decisive Battle of Normandy.

The battle saw Allied land, air and sea forces, including the Free French, land on June 6, 1944, along the coast for the start of the liberation of the north of France. It was a key victory but more than 4,000 Allied troops died that day, half of them Americans.

Along with major ceremonies at which King Charles, the UK’s prime minister, the US president and President Macron are expected, many smaller events are planned this summer.

Dominique Saussay of Nor­mandy Tourism said: “This year will be the last big one in the presence of veterans.”

Honouring veterans and commemorative art

She said 50 US veterans are coming with Delta Airlines, as well as UK veterans with the Taxi Charity. There will be an international ceremony at Omaha Beach and other bi-national (eg. French and Canadian or Australian) ones. 

Carentan-les-Marais is set to host a particularly happy event on June 8, when US veteran Harold Terens, 100, is due to marry his 96-year-old fiancée Jeanne Swerlin at the mairie. He told journalists their romance is “better than Romeo and Juliet”.

Read more: US veteran, 100, to marry in Normandy on 80th commemoration of D-Day

Also busy with preparations is Normandy resident Tansy Forster, a British retiree who has organised volunteers across the UK, as well as from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, to create 80 knitted and crocheted scenes inspired by photos from D-Day.

She has had 18 British and US visitors helping to make poppy cascades for displays, including a yellow one inspired by the insignia of the US Army’s 101st Airborne, who liberated the town, and a Union flag version for the town hall – balancing the fact that the town ordered flag bunting that came with only EU-nation flags.

Recollections of liberation from three local witnesses

She received a visit from three local French women, in their 90s, who feature as children in scenes meeting GIs.

“They remember being liberated. They were amazed by our scenes. We saw the years fall away from them as they looked, remembering the people.”

She added: “Jacqueline remembered the soldiers outside her house, trying to make their way down to where the brutal ‘cabbage patch’ battle was going on, and she remembers funerals in the village for paratroopers who were shot down and that she and her sister put flowers on their graves.

“Paulette remembered a photograph being taken by the liberators. Antoinette’s house was the centre of a ferocious battle between the Germans and Ameri­cans and she remembers her parents rushing her out. 

“You see a lot of children in liberation photographs because they were curious enough to come up to the soldiers. A lot of adults were worried in case the Americans were beaten back and the Germans took control again and people who had met with them were shot.”

Volunteers helped bring over knitted scenes and provide materials to mount them and display them in the church. They will then tour the UK and US.

Read more: Thanks! Volunteers found to help D-Day knitted soldiers reach France

Mrs Forster said: “I’d like to say a big thank you to all people who came to us via Connexion and stepped up to help.”

Now Mrs Forster ( says they are looking for ‘exhibition-style’ metallic boxes around 100/70/60cm they can both transport them in and display them in as they go on tour, as the cardboard boxes they have used are not sturdy enough.

More memories of war

Carentan has also collated accounts of people who lived in the area at the time of the landings. One concerned a train coming from Paris that stopped there, just after D-Day, because the line was damaged.

Sarah Pasquier, from the mairie, said: “We heard from one of the 300 passengers, who said they all went to take refuge with the family of one of them and lived there for several months as a village, growing their own vegetables and baking their own bread. Two women gave birth there. 

“The Americans thought Germans were hiding in the farm and were set to destroy it, but the passengers had to tell them no, they were all civilians.”

You can hear more stories via this Facebook post.

'Liberty flames' as thanks

Young French volunteers are, meanwhile, taking ‘liberty flames’ they lit at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris to the UK and US to “thank the Allies”. 

They have left one lantern at South­wick House in Hamp­shire, from which General Eisenhower launched Operation Overlord – the code name for the landings.

By June 6, a flame will be placed on a tomb of unknown soldiers at the military cemetery of Arlington, Virginia.

Spokesman Hervé Racat said: “We got a fantastic welcome at Portsmouth. Now 12 volunteers are on their way to the US.”