Princess Royal pays tribute to D-Day veterans ahead of Normandy service

The Princess Royal has paid tribute to British D-Day veterans, telling one he was the reason she performed her public role.

Anne met the former servicemen as they gathered in Normandy to remember fallen colleagues and their own efforts, ahead of the 80th anniversary of the Second World War campaign to liberate Europe from Nazi rule.

She joined veterans and their families at the Royal British Legion’s (RBL) poignant service of commemoration at Bayeux War Cemetery, where the congregation was surrounded by the manicured graves of more than 4,000 military casualties.

D-Day 80th anniversary
The Princess Royal speaks during the Royal British Legion Service of Commemoration (Jane Barlow/PA)

Later she took part in a solemn vigil in the cemetery, and described “the nervous trepidation of those allied sailors, soldiers and airmen who, 80 years ago today, were charged with storming the Normandy coastline and beginning the campaign to free western Europe from Nazi tyranny”.

Before the RBL’s service began, Anne chatted to Don Jones, 99, who served in the Royal Navy ferrying men and equipment on to Sword Beach.

She told the veteran that a reason she carries out her role “is because I meet people like you”.

Mr Jones, from Mold, North Wales, was a 19-year-old Able Seamen with the Royal Navy and said he focused on his job on June 6 1944 as the cacophony of battle was so great.

D-Day 80th anniversary
The Princess Royal views war graves following the Royal British Legion Service of Commemoration at Bayeux War Cemetery in Normandy. Aaron Chown/PA

He said after speaking to the princess: “I was in the Royal Navy on a tank landing craft, we took tanks and materials across and were dropping them off on Sword Beach. Then the following two months we were backwards and forwards with materials.

The veteran added: “It was so busy, I couldn’t absorb everything that was going on, the noise was so great. The bigger ships with the huge guns were firing over us all the time, firing inland to try and clear the enemy positions.”

A minute’s silence was observed in remembrance of the fallen and readings were given of first-hand accounts of British Forces who were tasked during the Normandy Landings with taking the stretch of coastline codenamed Sword Beach.

Former RAF Sergeant Bernard Morgan was a code breaker who landed on Gold Beach in the early evening of D-Day and saw the grim sight of drowned servicemen.

The 100-year-old veteran, from Crewe, said after chatting with Anne, who was joined by her husband Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence: “The thing I remember was seeing all the dead bodies on the beach.

“They arrived in the morning in small landing crafts that brought them into seven or eight feet of water, so when they stepped off they went straight down and with all the equipment they couldn’t get up.”

During the vigil, held late in the evening, Anne commented on her husband’s uncle, Sub-Lieutenant Keith Symons who, at the age of 20, was in command of three landing craft at Gold Beach in the first wave on D-Day.

She said in her speech: “Recalling in his memoirs the evening of 5th June he wrote: ‘At last it was time for our briefing. Our confidence was dented by predictions that casualties in the first wave were likely to be heavy.

D-Day 80th anniversary
The Princess Royal unveiled a statue (Aaron Chown/PA)

“‘Everyone was quite subdued, but it was all very matter-of-fact. They were in those days. After supper we sat around making light conversation and listening to the chaplain playing his violin.'”

Earlier, the princess hailed the “loyalty, bravery and duty” of the Royal Regina Rifles, as she unveiled a statue representing a rifleman from the Canadian unit which fought on D-Day.

The ceremony was staged in Place des Canadiens in the picturesque town of Bretteville l’Orgueilleuse, where in the days following the famous June 6 landings the regiment resisted enemy counterattacks head-on, without giving up any ground.