PORTSMOUTH • Queen Elizabeth was joined by world leaders, including US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day yesterday, paying personal tribute to the veterans of the largest seaborne invasion in history that helped bring World War II to an end.
The Queen, Prince Charles, presidents and prime ministers rose to applaud veterans, whose coats were heavy with medals, as they stood on a giant stage next to a guard of honour after a film of the Normandy landings was shown.
"The wartime generation - my generation - is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today," the 93-year-old Queen said.
"The heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten. It is with humility and pleasure, on behalf of the entire country - indeed the whole free world - that I say to you all: Thank you."
British Prime Minister Theresa May was joined for the commemorative events in Portsmouth by Mr Trump, who was on the final day of a state visit to Britain, and his wife Melania.
Mr Trump read a prayer given by former president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944: "The enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph."
French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Chancellor Merkel, and leaders and senior figures from 10 other countries also attended the ceremony.
In the early hours of June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied troops set off from Portsmouth and the surrounding area to begin the air, sea and land attack on Normandy that ultimately led to the liberation of Western Europe from the Nazi regime.
The invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord and commanded by US General Dwight Eisenhower, remains the largest amphibious assault in history and involved almost 7,000 ships and landing craft along a 80km stretch of the French coast.
Even the codenames of the sectors of the invasion - Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword - can draw tears from veterans.
"I was terrified. I think everyone was," said Mr John Jenkins, 99, a veteran who landed at Gold Beach.
"You never forget your comrades because we were all in it together."
The commemorations featured an hour-long performance recounting the wartime events and a flypast by historic, military aircraft.
Afterwards, world leaders met veterans of the landings. The Queen, President Trump and Prince Charles shook hands with half a dozen veterans, exchanging a few words and asking them about their stories from D-Day.
"Congratulations. Thank you very much," Mr Trump could be heard telling one of them.
Earlier in the day, Mr Trump said he was wowed by Prince Charles' passion for fighting climate change and that he also wanted a world that is "good for future generations".
Mr Trump also said Britain's Prince Harry was a terrific guy and denied casting his American-born wife Meghan as a nasty person, claiming the media had distorted his words.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE