Remembering sacrifices made at Provence’s landings

A new column written for Connexion readers by the British Ambassador to France Ed Llewellyn. He will be sharing an insight from his role every month.

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One of the privileges of my job is representing the UK at ceremonies across France commemorating our joint sacrifice in two world wars.

Often those events take place in the Somme or on the Normandy beaches.

But in August, I marked the 75th anniversary of the Allied landings in Provence.

Sitting among the cypress trees as the sun blazed down, it was hard to imagine that 75 years before, Allied forces were coming ashore a few hundred metres away.

My defence attaché and I had arrived early and headed to the French National Memorial at Boulouris.

The last-minute preparations were in full swing – the military choir was forming up, and, most movingly, a dozen or so veterans of the landings, nearly all in their nineties, were taking their places.

I chatted to my American and Canadian counterparts and had the chance to catch up with former President Sarkozy.

Then a hush descended, and President Macron arrived, accompanied by the presidents of Guinea and Ivory Coast. Their presence reminded us all of the enormous contribution, and sacrifices, made by troops from Africa as part of the French forces.

The landings in Provence are less well-known than the D-Day landings.

But a British parachute brigade landed on the morning of August 15 – and it was wonderful that a number of UK veterans came to mark the anniversary.

At sea, the Royal Navy made up a third of the maritime force.

For me, the anniversary also had a personal dimension. My wife’s grandfather was a doctor in the Free French Forces, having escaped occupied France and made his way to Casablanca. He too landed with his unit in Provence in August 1944.

So it was a particular honour to join the ceremony at Le Dramont beach to lay a wreath there with my family watching.

It was a reminder of the ties that bind our nations.

Those ties were uppermost in my mind as I joined Boris Johnson’s first meeting with President Macron as prime minister exactly a week later.

The prime minister told President Macron that Britain would be leaving the EU on October 31, and that he wanted to do so with a deal.

He also stressed the importance of protecting the rights of British citizens in France, including in the event of no- deal. But they also discussed the long list of issues on which the UK and France are working together – from foreign policy, to tackling inequality, to climate change.

I am writing this in Biarritz, where those issues will be at the heart of the G7 summit. Holding a major international summit requires a massive amount of energy and organisation.

At these big events, the prime minister is supported not just by policy advisers but by a dedicated team including his protection officers, as well as staff who set up his office and enable him to keep in close touch with No 10.

I have been very proud seeing my embassy team working round the clock, up to their eyes in spreadsheets of meeting schedules and briefings.

The summit itself is just part of the story – once it’s over, it will be our job to follow up with the French to implement those agreements.

Let me end by returning to Brexit.

I know that for many of you this is a time of uncertainty.

My team in the embassy and I will be holding more outreach meetings and following up on the issues which the prime minister raised with President Macron.

We will share further information as soon as we have it.

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