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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 June, 2004, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Veterans' tribute to land commander
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Online in Normandy

Norman Akers
Norman Akers lost a brother in the Normandy campaign

The ones who were too frail to march were wheeled along the streets of Colleville-Montgomery, but they made sure they were there.

Hundreds of British D-Day veterans took part, cheered on by thousands of friends, families and residents of the town.

The parade began at the seafront and made the short journey to the town's D-Day square, where a service was held under the watchful eye of their former leader, Field Marshal Montgomery.

His statue dominates the square in the town, which was re-named to mark the achievements of the commander-in-chief of the Allied land forces.

The mood was generally upbeat - as if the presence of so many veterans was itself something to celebrate.

Among the crowd there were England football shirts, Union Jacks being waved and a placard saying: "The young are grateful."

Field Marshal Bernard Law 'Monty' Montgomery
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery
Born in 1887 - died 1976
Served on WW1 Western Front
Became Major General in 1938
Scored turning-point WW2 victory at El Alamein, N Africa
Commanded UK and Canadian units on D-Day
Became Field Marshal in 1944
Suffered defeat in Arnhem, Netherlands - 6,000 troops lost
Made Nato European Deputy Supreme Commander in 1951

One of the youngsters, Megan Singleton, eight, from Cumbria, said: "All the men fought for our freedom and we wouldn't be here if they hadn't done that."

This gratitude was shared by some of the French observers.

Gerard Davesne, 55, who lives in the town, said: "The service was very moving, for the veterans and for us. This is very important for the French people - all of them."

The cost of liberation was underlined by the Reverend Kenneth Ward, national chaplain of the Normandy Veterans' Association.

He read an extract from St John's Gospel, which said: "Man has no greater love than to lay down his life for his friend."

The Last Post was followed by a moment's silence for those killed in action or since passed away.

Norman Akers, 79, was thinking about his brother Ernest, killed in the Battle of Caen one month after D-Day.

Statue of Montgomery

Norman, himself a veteran, said: "My officer told me he had a letter from my parents which said they couldn't bring themselves to inform me. Ernie was my icon and I'm thinking of him today."

Walter Brooks, 84, dabbing his eyes, told me: "The ceremony was perfect, but very emotional."

He served under Montgomery in the desert and in France and said he was a great leader who gave the troops great confidence.

But for serving members of the Armed Forces, marshalling events in Colleville-Montgomery, it was clear who their inspiration was.

Major Nigel Partington of the 4JS Medical Regiment said: "When we go to war now, we are governed by technology and not the raw courage shown by these men.

"Not the raw courage of facing fortified positions knowing your life expectancy is about 5%."


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