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Thousands to honour those who gave their lives on D-Day 75 years on

Veterans will join world leaders and members of the royal family as they mark the single most important operation of the Second World War.

The sun rises over Juno beach near Graye-sur-Mer in France (Steve Parsons/PA)
The sun rises over Juno beach near Graye-sur-Mer in France (Steve Parsons/PA)

Thousands of people are preparing to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings at a series of commemoration events in the UK and France this week.

Senior politicians and members of the Royal family as well as hundreds of veterans are set to attend ceremonies to remember what is considered one of the most important events of the Second World War and the biggest amphibious invasion in military history.

More than 200 veterans have boarded a cruise ship charted by the Royal British Legion to attend the events while others are descending en masse on Portsmouth and Normandy.

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The shadow of a Royal Navy rating falls on the names on one of the panels on the Portsmouth Naval memorial in Southsea (PA)

Key ceremonies acknowledging the operation – which saw thousands killed and injured after it launched on June 6 1944 – include the UK’s national commemoration event on Wednesday which will be attended by the Queen and Donald Trump.

Representatives from other allied countries as well as Germany are expected to attend the event at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial involving 4,000 military personnel, 11 Royal Naval vessels and 26 RAF aircraft.

US president Mr Trump’s attendance has led to a mass security operation and claims his presence will take the focus away from veterans.

The Hampshire port city will be the focus of other commemorative events throughout the week while international attention shifts to France.

Other events are planned for Poole and Duxford alongside hundreds of smaller gatherings around the UK.

Later in the afternoon, veterans Harry Read, 95, and John Hutton, 94, will parachute into Normandy in honour of comrades they lost when they first made the descent 75 years ago.

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D-Day veteran Harry Read, 94, is helped into his skydiving harness at Old Sarum Airfield, Salisbury, Wiltshire (Ben Birchall/PA)

Alongside around 280 paratroopers they will take part in the descent onto fields at Sannerville – the drop zone for the 8th Midlands Parachute Battalion during D-Day.

Mr Read, a 20-year-old wireless operator with the Royal Signals, said: “I will enjoy the jump.

“It might be a little bit tricky, but I’m willing to have a go.

“But also in my heart I will be thinking of my mates.

“I have lived one of the most fulfilled lives that it’s possible for a person to live and they haven’t.”

Mr Hutton – known by his friends as Jock – was 19 when he served in the 13th Lancashire Parachute Battalion. The experienced parachutist is not at all fazed by the prospect and said there was “nothing strange” about the task.

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(PA Graphics)

That evening a vigil and silent march will take place at Pegasus Bridge which was the scene of a 15-minute skirmish to take hold of the pathways over the Caen Canal and River Orne. This was the first British objective to be achieved on D-Day.

On Thursday, a service of remembrance takes place at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Theresa May will make one of her final official appearances as the British Prime Minister during the D-Day commemoration events.

She will begin her tour on Thursday morning at an inauguration ceremony which will see a sculpture unveiled at the British Normandy Memorial site overlooking Gold beach which is being built to honour those who died during the Battle of Normandy between the D-Day landings and August 31 1944.

Then she will join the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall for a service of remembrance at Bayeux Cathedral.

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Dignitaries will pay their respects at Bayeux (Jonathan Brady/PA)

This is followed by a second service at the the Bayeux War Cemetery – the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission site of the Second World War in France – where wreaths will be laid.

Later that day, an international ceremony takes place at Juno beach – which has led to criticism for French president Emmanuel Macron over his refusal to attend.

Instead, he plans to emphasise the role played by French soldiers and resistance fighters in the invasion.

His critics described his absence as an affront to allied veterans. Officials in Paris said French presidents only take charge of international D-Day commemorations on “round number” anniversaries, such as the 60th.

Mr Macron will participate in a series of Franco-British and Franco-American commemorative events with Mrs May and Mr Trump, but is leaving his prime minister Edouard Philippe to take charge at Juno beach.

As a result the ceremony, which had been expected to be one of the high points of commemorations, is being avoided by most other world leaders too, with only Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, and Charles Michel, his Belgian counterpart, expected to join Mr Philippe.

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French president Emmanuel Macron sparked controversy over his refused to attend a ceremony at Bayeux War Cemetery (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

On the same day, he will join Mr Trump at Omaha Beach to award the Legion d’honneur, France’s highest honour, to five US veterans aged between 94 and 100.

Meanwhile, many veterans will flock to the Normandy town of Arromanches for the week.

This overlooks where one of the Mulberry harbours – the concrete portable blocks towed over from Britain to allow vehicles to land – called Port Winston was set up, allowing 2.5 million men to arrive there.

Activities on Thursday will mark key events in the operation including the exact moment the first British soldier landed on Gold beach. That afternoon, veterans will parade through the town before enjoying a display.

The Voices of Liberation sound installation, capturing the recollections of those who fought and the families of those who died, is also available for visitors to hear in Portsmouth and Bayeux from Wednesday to Sunday.

PA

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