French fury as Prince Charles denies snub to D-Day village
A French village where British parachutists fought an epic battle during the D-Day landings is in uproar after learning Prince Charles will not, as they had hoped, be visiting for next month's 70th anniversary commemorations.
Children in the Normandy village of Merville have spent weeks learning the words to "God Save the Queen" in anticipation of a visit by the heir to the British throne.
Local officials expected Charles, who is Colonel-in-Chief of Britain's legendary Parachute Regiment, to attend a ceremony in the village on June 5 and had splashed out tens of thousands of euros on preparations for a royal visit which will not take place.
They say they only learned that Charles was not coming when his finalised programme was announced last week.
A spokeswoman for the prince denied a visit to the village had been organised then abruptly cancelled.
"(The visit) was never formally on the programme," she told AFP, stressing that the prince had a packed programme of veterans' events scheduled for the eve of the 70th anniversary of 'The Longest Day.'
Merville mayor Olivier Paz is so outraged by the perceived snub that he plans to travel to London on Wednesday to personally deliver a letter of protest to Clarence House, the prince's London residence.
"We have been working for weeks to welcome Prince Charles," Paz told AFP. "I must admit I blew a fuse when I learned he was not coming."
The letter, which has been signed by 1,000 people, expresses the dismay felt in a village which features on the Parachute Regiment's 'Battle Honours' -- the list of battle sites emblazoned on the regiment's colours.
It notes that Charles will visit a number of other battle sites in the area but not Merville, leaving it as the only Battle Honour site of the regiment not to have been visited by its Colonel-in-Chief.
"As a result, the last survivors of the ninth battalion, those who distinguished themselves on D-Day with their selflessness and pugnacity, will never have the honour of a visit by their Colonel-in-Chief," Paz writes in the letter.
"We cannot believe it and we want to inform you of our distress and great sadness."
- 'Moves you to the core' -
Merville was targeted on D-Day because it was the site of a major German gun battery. The British paras succeeded in putting it out of action, but at a huge cost.
"Out of 700 men only 75 emerged alive after the assault," Paz said.
"I have seen hundreds of people weeping at ceremonies there. When you see the handful of veterans put down their walking sticks to march in front of the casemate, it gets you right in the guts.
"I really regret that Prince Charles will not be able to see it as it's something that moves you to the core."
Charles and his wife Camilla will be attending five events related to the Parachute Regiment on June 5.
His spokesman said all the regiment's Normandy veterans had been invited to a lunch at nearby Ranville.
"This includes those who fought at the Merville battery," she said. "All the local mayors have been invited, and that includes the mayor of Merville."
The prince's programme had been drawn up in consultation with various veteran organisations and regiments including the Parachute Regiment, she added.
Charles will not be able to receive the letter of protest in person on Wednesday as he is currently in Canada.
© 2014 AFP