Norwegian king wraps D-Day ceremonies

7th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

HERMANVILLE-SUR-MER, France, June 7 (AFP) - In the last official D-Day ceremony, King Harald V of Norway Monday unveiled a memorial to his country's sailors, who made a vital but sometimes overlooked contribution to the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944.

HERMANVILLE-SUR-MER, France, June 7 (AFP) - In the last official D-Day ceremony, King Harald V of Norway Monday unveiled a memorial to his country's sailors, who made a vital but sometimes overlooked contribution to the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944.

The commemoration capped a poignant weekend of events in northwestern France marking the 60th anniversary of the invasion of the Normandy beaches by the Allies on June 6, 1944.

Monday's event was the last of a series of ceremonies around the five beaches - dubbed Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold and Juno - stormed by more than 150,000 Allied troops in a bid to break the Nazi grip on Europe.

Ten Norwegian warships took part in the invasion landing at Sword Beach here, one of which, the frigate Svenner, was sunk by a German torpedo boat.

The frigate, the only major warship to be sunk among the vast armada of more than 6,000 vessels, went down quickly several kilometers (miles) from the coast. Thirty-four members of its crew of 231 were killed.

"I saw the torpedo coming, and I hoped they had set it to run deeper," said Hakon Lunde, who was navigation officer on the bridge when the Svenner was hit, and was among the veterans at the ceremony.

The king unveiled a bronze model of a Norwegian sailor hefting a shell. The statue by Per Palle Storm, a copy of one in Oslo, stands next to the anchor of the Svenner, which the French navy recovered last year.

On Monday, British newspapers asked if today's generation of young Europeans would be as brave as those thousands who waded ashore straight into the German artillery in front of them.

"It is an open question whether the present generation that now takes peace in Europe virtually for granted and which is groomed to expect wars without casualties, could ever again be motivated in the same way as the soldiers of the second world war," said the left-leaning Guardian.

On Sunday, 60 years to the day since the landings, French President Jacques Chirac vowed before 21 heads of state and government: "France will never forget what it owes America, its steadfast friend and ally."

US President George W. Bush pledged that Washington would be ready to act again if needed, paying tribute to the troops saying "you will be honoured ever and always."

By the end of the day on June 6, 1944, more than 30,000 men had landed on Sword Beach. Hermanville itself was liberated within two hours of the original landing.

As the invasion moved forward, Norwegian air force units crossed the English channel to an air force base at Villons-Les-Buissons, where King Harald attended a memorial ceremony on Saturday at a memorial dedicated to all Norwegian combatants in the war.

To enable landing craft to operate along the heavily fortified beach here, the Allies scuttled nine large ships as a breakwater, including the French cruiser Courbet, which proudly flew the banner of the Free French forces as it settled on the bottom.

Many, including Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, believe this year's events could mark the last major gathering of the veterans, many of whom are getting frail.

But eight US paratroopers were later Monday set to recreate their jump behind German lines 60 years ago, with a drop over the village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, one of the first to be liberated by the US troops.

The jump was due to take place under bright sunny skies from a height below 10,000 feet at about 2:30 pm, after they received security clearance from local authorities and presented health certificates.

"We are still a bit worried," Jean-Pierre Le Bihan, head of the environment department for the northwestern Manche region said. As a precautionary measure, an orthopaedic surgeon will be on standby on the ground as well as ambulances and firemen.

In contrast with the formal events over the weekend marking the 60th anniversary of the invasion, the Norwegian ceremony here was relatively low-key and informal in a town where the 1944 liberators have forged many friendships with local inhabitants.

The king's palace guard and band, accompanied by French troops and sailors formed an escort as the monarch sat on a plush red and gilt chair in blazing sunshine through a series of welcoming speeches.

As the ceremony ended, dozens of pigeons were released and a choir of school-children sang, before the veterans and townspeople moved to a tent for a glass of champagne.

© AFP

Subject: French news

 

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