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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 June, 2004, 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK
D-Day veterans join commemoration
Flotilla en route to France
The flotilla retraced the steps of veterans as it headed for France
Hundreds of veterans have arrived by boat in Normandy to join the ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Around 12,000 of those who took part in the seaborne invasion are in France to commemorate the event.

The journey reached its finale on Saturday afternoon when a Lancaster bomber flew over the ships and scattered a million poppies.

Sunday's anniversary events in France will be attended by 17 heads of state.

The veterans and others are honouring the thousands who died to liberate France from German occupation.

It's absolutely essential that we recognise what these now elderly gentleman did for us all

The UK's top general, Sir Mike Jackson said: "Sadly this will be the last major anniversary for many of the veterans.

"They all had to reach deep inside themselves and bring out something which thank heavens eventually led to victory."

Figures attending the weekend's commemorations will include, for the first time, the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.

'You could cry'

The Queen, Prime Minister Tony Blair, US President George Bush, French President Jacques Chirac and Russian premier Vladimir Putin will also be present.

On Saturday Prince Charles unveiled a replica of a horsa glider, used by British troops in the crucial invasion, and capture, of Pegasus Bridge.

Joe Burnett, 83, from South Shields, was one of the group went to Pegasus Bridge to relieve the paratroopers who had landed there under cover of darkness.

The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you
General Eisenhower's D-Day message to troops

"It's marvellous seeing all your old friends. When you think of the lads who died here, you could cry for them," he said.

As Colonel in Chief of the Royal Dragoons Prince Charles also laid a wreath for them in Creully, which was liberated by UK soldiers.

And he also opened a British garden of remembrance in Caen, capital of the Calvados region where most of the D-Day beaches are sited.

More than 450 UK veterans made the Channel crossing in cruise ship the Van Gogh, which was chartered for the event by the Royal British Legion.

The British, American, Canadian and French navies were all represented.

James Hill
James Hill, 93, is D-Day's oldest surviving senior officer

Among the vessels was the boat that carried Winston Churchill and the supreme allied commander, General Eisenhower, as they reviewed the D-Day Armada.

The troops who set out on the operation carried an order of the day from General Eisenhower, who told them, "I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle".

Among the host of displays and services was the arrival of 600 American parachutists who came from the French skies to commemorate the drop behind enemy lines at the northwestern village of Saint Mere Eglise.

Nearly 500 British and Canadian soldiers also parachuted into France.

The jump over Ranville plain was witnessed by hundreds of veterans who had dropped there in the early hours of D-Day in darkness.

Ted Hillman, 86, originally from Leicester but now living in Australia, dropped into Ranville on D-Day and encountered heavy fighting.

"It breaks me up when I go down to Ranville cemetery, when I put my hand on my friends' headstones, a lot of these lads died in my arms and I cannot talk about it."

Every one of those men are my heroes
Pacharo Kayira, Lilongwe, Malawi

Prince Charles also unveiled a statue at Les Mesnil to 93-year-old Brigadier James Hill - D-Day's oldest surviving senior officer.

As commander of the 3rd Parachute Brigade, he lost more than half his troops - 1500 - on D-Day.

The brigadier told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The thing that sticks in my heart and mind today...was the fact that as we pushed on the wounded all gave us a cheer.

"An hour or two later there was nobody left alive, they were all dead - drowned, killed, or missing."

On 6 June 1944 some 6,000 allied vessels headed to the shores of occupied France in the biggest seaborne operation in history.

Of three million men who fought in the subsequent 80-day battle for Normandy around 250,000 were killed.

The BBC's Tristana Moore
"It isn't an easy job getting the town ready"


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