ROBERT HARDMAN on the unveiling on the long-awaited Normandy Memorial

A memorial fit for heroes who lifted the shackles of tyranny, mile by bloody mile: ROBERT HARDMAN on the unveiling on the long-awaited Normandy Memorial to the D-Day fallen

Beneath a sunny sky and the patriotic vapour trails of the Red Arrows, with the Channel calmly lapping the distant hulks of the Mulberry defences, it all looked utterly magnificent.

Precisely 77 years earlier, this stretch of the Normandy coast had been a scene of chaos, horror – and great gallantry, too. It was only a mile from this spot above Gold Beach that Company Sergeant-Major Stan Hollis of the Green Howards charged one enemy machine gun after another to win the only Victoria Cross of D- Day. He would make it home (albeit wounded), unlike 22,440 men and two women under British command.

Yesterday morning, they finally received their due when the long (the very long)-awaited Normandy Memorial was unveiled at last. Engraved on its walls and 160 pillars are the names of all of them. Just one crucial element was missing yesterday – the veterans and the families of the fallen. For them, this moment was a monumental victory in every sense of the word.

As the sun rises over the French village of Ver-Sur-Mer, British piper Steve Black plays to commemorate the fallen soldiers in a poignant scene. The names of those 22,442 men and women who lost their lives during the invasion of Nazi-occupied France are now inscribed on the pillars at the British Normandy Memorial

A pair of veterans speak during the ceremony to commemmorate 77 years since the D-Day landings

Donald Redstone, 96, receives the Legion d’Honneur during a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire

Veterans share a joke during a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire on Sunday

A veteran watches the official opening of the British Normandy Memorial in France via a live feed on Sunday

Mr Black stands alone as he looks out on to Gold Beach on top of a hillside in Ver-sur-Mer, Normandy, where thousands lost their lives

D-Day veterans George Chandler, Joe Cattini, John Dennett and Jack Quinn arrive on a landing craft at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on Sunday

The French air force’s aerobatics squad ‘Patrouille de France’ fly over the memorial in Ver-sur-Mer in France on Sunday

Due to Covid, though, they could not be there to witness it in person. So they had gathered at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire in front of a drumhead altar and giant video screens linking them up to Normandy. There, the British ambassador, Lord Llewellyn, saluted those who had ‘lifted the shackles of tyranny, mile by bloody mile’, before declaring the memorial open.

Everything has conspired against this lot over the years. First, there was the inertia of officialdom which meant that the UK was, for decades, the only allied nation without a national memorial in Normandy – until a dogged campaign by the surviving veterans, supported by the Mail and its readers.

Then came the coronavirus. That not only scuppered plans for last autumn’s informal opening but wrecked the grand royal unveiling scheduled for yesterday – on the anniversary of D-Day itself.

Finally, even the weather had a go. While it was sunshine on the Normandy coast, it was chucking it down in Staffordshire yesterday morning, so much so that a Spitfire flypast over the arboretum had to be called off. Not that this lot were downhearted. When you have saved the free world and buried your pals along the way, a spot of summer rain is neither here nor there.

Hence a splendid turnout of 110 veterans – none of them a day under 95 – including 101-year-old Donald Sheppard, the oldest on parade. ‘Such an important day, and we’ll be over in France to see it soon enough,’ he said cheerfully. For this old soldier from the 51st Highland Division, D-Day is absolutely not in the past. Like everyone there yesterday, he had come for those in Normandy forever.

Peggy Eckert was there to honour two of them – her big brothers, Stan and Cyril, late of the Parachute Regiment. Peggy still has the letter which 19-year-old Stan scribbled in pencil to his mother, Mary, moments before the enemy charged his position on June 6, 1944. It begins: ‘Do you know mum dear, I have never realised how much you meant to me, until now…’ Cyril, 22, died of his wounds after a firefight at Pont l’Eveque six weeks later.

‘My parents never got over it,’ says Peggy, who was 11 at the time. She has been back many times to the Paras’ cemetery at Ranville, where both boys are buried. Now she can’t wait to see them on the memorial, even if it has been a long old wait. Chris Bates, 60, had come in memory of his uncle, Corporal Sidney ‘Basher’ Bates, a Camberwell lad serving with the Norfolks and the only VC -holder on the memorial. On August 6, 1944, Bates had charged into machine gun and mortar fire, again and again, before being mortally wounded.

The French Air Force Patrouille de France Team fly over the Normandy coast at the official opening ceremony at Ver-sur-Mer

Veterans watch the official opening of the British Normandy Memorial in France via a live feed during a ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire on Sunday

Handout photo issued by the Normandy Memorial Trust of French Air Force Patrouille de France Team performing at the official opening ceremony of the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer in France on the anniversary of the D-Day landings

‘My poor Nan,’ said Chris. ‘Ten days after his death, the family were bombed out in Camberwell. Churchill wanted to make an anonymous donation when he read about it.’

Troops from the 48th Royal Marines at Saint-Aubin-sur-mer on Juno Beach, Normandy, France, during the D-Day landings, 6th June 1944

Commandos of the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division of the British Army coming ashore from Landing Craft Infantry at Gold Beach in Normandy, France, on 6 June 1944

As a stonemason himself, Chris Bates, was delighted with the quality of the memorial. Now, like everyone else, he wants to ensure that future generations understand why it is there, even if it’s been a while coming. ‘The Americans put their memorial up back in 1956 and it’s taken us until today,’ chuckled Frank Baugh of Doncaster. The former Royal Navy signalman has vivid memories of his landing craft taking a direct hit at Sword Beach on the morning of D-Day, of limping back to Newhaven with the wounded of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, of patching up the hole in the side overnight and returning to the fray the next morning.

A born raconteur, he was chosen to address the big 75th anniversary ceremony at Bayeux in 2019. Yesterday, he told me he had a confession. ‘You know, I originally opposed this memorial because I thought they should build it at Sword Beach,’ he said. ‘All I can say is I’m very glad they ignored my letter! Because this thing is wonderful.’

This was such a proud day for George Batts, the former secretary of the Normandy Veterans Association. He was the chap who collared prime minister David Cameron at the 70th anniversary in 2014 and persuaded him to back the idea of a Normandy Memorial Trust. The Government’s LIBOR fund (of banking fines) got the ball rolling. Then the Daily Mail came on board and our readers donated an astonishing £1million.

Other donations followed and a further grant from the LIBOR fund ensured that this sacred 52-acre site could take shape.

Yesterday, the trust’s chairman, Lord Ricketts, and the master of ceremonies, Nicholas Witchell, singled out Mail readers for special thanks. Many of the veterans wanted to thank Witchell himself. The BBC journalist was a founding member of the trust and has been a great driver of this project, at one point administering the whole appeal from his kitchen table.

Over in Normandy, the British ambassador, accompanied by the French minister of defence, addressed his remarks to all those back in Blighty. ‘I can assure you, standing here, that it is truly a memorial fit for heroes,’ said Lord Llewellyn. ‘A more tranquil, beautiful scene it would be hard to imagine. Peace – thanks to you, and thanks to all those whose names surround us.’

The Prince of Wales, royal patron of the appeal, had been planning to unveil the memorial himself. He sent them a lengthy video message, talking in both English and French, saluting their achievement and adding: ‘It has, for many years, been a concern to me that the memory of these remarkable individuals should be preserved for future generations.’

Eyewitness accounts were read out by serving soldiers and also by two genuine eyewitnesses, former RAF sergeant, Bernard Morgan, and Arlette Gondree. The latter had been a small girl living with her parents at the Cafe Gondree in Benouville, next to Pegasus Bridge, when it was the first piece of French soil to be liberated by the men of the Ox and Bucks.

‘Their faces appeared in black camouflage cream – frightening,’ she recalled. ‘Who were they? They were our liberators. Our heroes. The British had arrived and we were free!’

After the ceremony, a couple of elderly Paras gave her a hug. This was a day of great happiness and, in a sense, closure – though not for all. ‘I’ll only get real closure when I find out what happened to my father,’ said Peter Blyth, who was four when his father, Guardsman David Blyth, was killed. ‘His tank got knocked out on June 30, 1944 and three of the crew were never found, including my father. So he’s still missing in action.’

Don’t tell Mr Blyth that D-Day is all in the past. However, as of yesterday, this proud Yorkshireman feels that justice has certainly been done with this memorial. His verdict? ‘I think it’s just grand.’

How the Allies used a Spanish double agent and a dead tramp to fool the Germans over D-Day landings

Allied soldiers are pictured landing on the French coast in Normandy during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944

The Allied invasion of Normandy beginning on D-Day, June 6, 1944, has gone down in history as a spectacular military success. 

But less well known are the extraordinary efforts the Allies and their intelligence services had made to deceive Hitler about their plans.  

Operation Mincemeat was a spectacular plot used to deceive the Germans and helped change the course of World War Two.

It started when a homeless tramp from South Wales was found dying in an abandoned warehouse near King’s Cross in London and was taken to St Pancras Hospital, where he died.

He was believed to have swallowed rat poison in a suicide attempt, which caused fluid to build up in his lungs – consistent with death at sea.

The dead man’s name was Glyndwr Michael, and he was 34 years of age a the time of his death.

The coroner agreed to keep Michael’s body in a cold store while the architects of the plan – Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley – set about the task of creating a new identity for their corpse.

Glyndwr Michael was turned into Captain William ‘Bill’ H.N. Martin of the Royal Marines. He was given an identity card, no. 148228. They chose the name because there was a number of William Martins on the Navy List for 1942, and they wanted German intelligence to be able to check.

He was given a suitcase full of fake documents which indicated the Allied armies massed in North Africa were aiming for Greece. 

Montagu even gave ‘The Man Who Never Was’ a romance, complete with a bill for an engagement ring, and two carefully prepared love letters, plus a photograph of his ‘fiancee’.

In April 1943, the body was dropped into the sea from a Royal Navy submarine and then floated towards the coast of Spain.

Operation Mincemeat fooled Hitler completely: German troops were deployed to the wrong place; thousands of British, Canadian and American lives were saved; Mussolini was deposed; and the course of World War Two was changed.

The operation was not related to the newly revealed German message. 

Meanwhile, Agent Garbo was the most successful double agent of the Second World War, running a network of fictional spies who helped pull off D-Day.

After developing a loathing of the Fascist regimes in Europe during the Spanish Civil War, Pujol became a spy for the Allies to do something ‘for the good of humanity’.

Agent Garbo, real name Juan Pujol Garcia, was the most successful double agent of the Second World War, running a network of fictional spies who helped pull off D-Day

Pujol and his wife contacted the British and American intelligence agencies, but each rejected his offer.

Undeterred, he created a false identity as a fanatically pro-Nazi Spanish government official and successfully became a German agent.

Pujol soon established himself as a trustworthy agent and began inventing fictional sub-agents who could be blamed for false information and mistakes.

But Garbo, the colourful Spaniard at the centre of Operation Double Cross, had more important things to worry about than the Nazis.

His ‘highly emotional and temperamental’ wife nearly derailed D-Day after threatening to unmask him when he refused to let her go to a party at the Spanish Embassy.

She even left the gas taps on in an apparent suicide attempt because she was homesick, according to secret service files released by the National Archives at Kew in 2016. 

Garbo, whose real name was Juan Pujol Garcia, almost single-handedly ran a network of fictional spies who fed the Germans false information.

Once he had earned their trust, he sent misleading intelligence in the run-up to D-Day that convinced the Nazis to deploy troops away from real landing sites. The elaborate deception was conducted from his semi-detached home in Hendon, north west London.       

D-Day: Huge invasion of Europe described by Churchill as the ‘most complicated and difficult’ military operation in world history

Operation Overlord saw some 156,000 Allied troops landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

It is thought as many as 4,400 were killed in an operation Winston Churchill described as ‘undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place’.

The assault was conducted in two phases: an airborne landing of 24,000 British, American, Canadian and Free French airborne troops shortly after midnight, and an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armoured divisions on the coast of France commencing at 6.30am.

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history, with over 160,000 troops landing. Some 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved. 

US Army troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Normandy’s ‘Omaha’ Beach on D-Day in Colleville Sur-Mer, France June 6 1944. As infantry disembarked from the landing craft, they often found themselves on sandbars 50 to 100 yards away from the beach. To reach the beach they had to wade through water sometimes neck deep

US Army troops and crewmen aboard a Coast Guard manned LCVP approach a beach on D-Day. After the initial landing soldiers found the original plan was in tatters, with so many units mis-landed, disorganized and scattered. Most commanders had fallen or were absent, and there were few ways to communicate

A LCVP landing craft from the U.S. Coast Guard attack transport USS Samuel Chase approaches Omaha Beach. The objective was for the beach defences to be cleared within two hours of the initial landing. But stubborn German defence delayed efforts to take the beach and led to significant delays 

An LCM landing craft manned by the U.S. Coast Guard, evacuating U.S. casualties from the invasion beaches, brings them to a transport for treatment. An accurate figure for casualties incurred by V Corps at Omaha on 6 June is not known; sources vary between 2,000 and over 5,000 killed, wounded, and missing

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in world history, with over 160,000 troops landing. Some 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved.

The landings took place along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

The assault was chaotic with boats arriving at the wrong point and others getting into difficulties in the water.

Destruction in the northern French town of Carentan after the invasion in June 1944

Forward 14/45 guns of the US Navy battleship USS Nevada fire on positions ashore during the D-Day landings on Utah Beach. The only artillery support for the troops making these tentative advances was from the navy. Finding targets difficult to spot, and in fear of hitting their own troops, the big guns of the battleships and cruisers concentrated fire on the flanks of the beaches

The US Navy minesweeper USS Tide sinks after striking a mine, while its crew are assisted by patrol torpedo boat PT-509 and minesweeper USS Pheasant. When another ship attempted to tow the damaged ship to the beach, the strain broke her in two and she sank only minutes after the last survivors had been taken off

A US Army medic moves along a narrow strip of Omaha Beach administering first aid to men wounded in the Normandy landing on D-Day in Collville Sur-Mer. On D-Day, dozens of medics went into battle on the beaches of Normandy, usually without a weapon. Not only did the number of wounded exceed expectations, but the means to evacuate them did not exist

Troops managed only to gain a small foothold on the beach – but they built on their initial breakthrough in the coming days and a harbor was opened at Omaha.

They met strong resistance from the German forces who were stationed at strongpoints along the coastline.

Approximately 10,000 allies were injured or killed, including 6,603 American, of which 2,499 were fatal.

Between 4,000 and 9,000 German troops were killed – and it proved the pivotal moment of the war, in the allied forces’ favour.

The first wave of troops from the US Army takes cover under the fire of Nazi guns in 1944

Canadian soldiers study a German plan of the beach during D-Day landing operations in Normandy. Once the beachhead had been secured, Omaha became the location of one of the two Mulberry harbors, prefabricated artificial harbors towed in pieces across the English Channel and assembled just off shore

US Army Rangers show off the ladders they used to storm the cliffs which they assaulted in support of Omaha Beach landings at Pointe du Hoc. At the end of the two-day action, the initial Ranger landing force of 225 or more was reduced to about 90 fighting men

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