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Veterans travel for D-Day memorial

Hundreds of British veterans have started possibly their last ever pilgrimage to Normandy to honour and remember lost comrades killed in the D-Day landings 70 years ago.

More than 650 ex-servicemen are travelling to northern France to commemorate the military invasion which changed history.

Around 200,000 visitors are due in the region this week to mark the anniversary of the momentous events, according to local authorities.

The local tourist board reported that hotels in the towns and villages closest to the battlegrounds and the five D-Day landing beaches were fully booked.

Armelle Le Goff, a spokeswoman for the Calvados Tourist Board, said: "It would be very difficult to find a hotel room in between Caen, Bayeux and Ouistreham."

The eyes of the world will focus on Normandy this week for what is likely to be the last decennial anniversary involving troops, now in their 80s and 90s, who took part in the landings.

The Normandy Veterans' Association (NVA), whose numbers have fallen to around 600 from some 15,000, has announced it will disband in November.

Heads of state from 17 nations, including the Queen and Barack Obama, will gather on Friday for the international ceremony at Sword Beach, the easternmost of the five landing sites.

The Prince of Wales and Vladimir Putin will also be there, in a potentially awkward encounter following Charles' recent remarks comparing the Russian president's actions in Ukraine with those of Adolf Hitler.

Also on Friday, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will attend a commemoration of the landings at Gold beach at Arromanches.

Tomorrow some 500 veterans and their families will attend a wreath-laying at the Musee Memorial Pegasus at Ranville and a service at the Pegasus Bridge landing site opposite.

The taking of Pegasus Bridge was a major triumph for the Allies in the early stages of the invasion in France.

During the assault, paratroopers and glider-borne troops landed on the eastern flank of the invasion area, near to the French city of Caen.

The troops from 2nd Battalion the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, 249th (Airborne) Field Company Royal Engineers and the Glider Pilot Regiment had trained for months.

Their aim was to capture two strategically-vital bridges over the Caen canal and Orne River - one the now-famous Pegasus Bridge, as well as to destroy some other bridges and secure several important villages.

Under the command of Major John Howard, they captured the bridges after a 15-minute skirmish, in which two soldiers were killed and 14 wounded.

Maj Howard famously signalled the success of the first British objective on D-Day by transmitting the codewords "Ham and Jam".

At the commemorative service, Maj Howard's daughter Penny Bates will be among those who will lay wreaths at the landing site.

Others will include Jen Wallwork, the wife of Staff Sergeant James Wallwork, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal after being the first glider pilot to land.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will lay a wreath at the Glider Pilot Memorial and meet veterans.

A huge array of events to mark the invasion has been organised across the region. And a series of smartphone apps, GPS tours and virtual visits have been specially developed.

Tributes will not only be paid to those men who fought on June 6 1944, but also the Normandy civilians who paid a heavy price for liberation from the Nazis.


From Belfast Telegraph