THE Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall gathered at a D-Day commemoration service in France as the world remembered the sacrifices and heroism of troops involved in the landings exactly 70 years ago.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and about 400 Commonwealth troops also attended the Royal British Legion service at Bayeux Cathedral in Normandy.

Loading article content

Guests including French prime minister Manuel Valls and Australian prime minister Tony Abbott packed into the Norman-Romanesque cathedral - the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry - on a day which is expected to mark the high point of the D-Day anniversary events.

Later, up to 19 heads of state, including the Queen and US president Barack Obama, will turn out on Sword Beach near Ouistreham, one of the five Allied landing zones on June 6, 1944.

In a message in the official D-Day brochure, the Queen said: "I am very pleased to be able to join veterans here in Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

The Northern Echo:
The Duke of Edinburgh, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Queen Elizabeth II and The Prince of Wales attend the Service of Remembrance at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, Bayeux

"On June 6 1944 after months of planning and training, the largest amphibious assault in history was launched to secure freedom in Europe.

"Hundreds of thousands of servicemen made the journey across the Channel by sea and air, and through their brave actions and dogged determination, established a vital foothold in occupied Europe.

"This immense and heroic endeavour brought the end of the Second World War within reach.

"I am sure that these commemorations will provide veterans of the conflict and their families gathered here in France, along with their hosts, the people of Normandy, with an opportunity to reflect on their experiences and the incredible sacrifices that were made."

This week thousands of people, including some of the ever-decreasing number of D-Day veterans, flocked to beaches, cemeteries and villages linked to the landings.

At Bayeux, heads of state, senior clergy and other dignitaries gathered for what is one of the two official Anglo-French D-Day commemoration ceremonies.

Clergy filed into the magnificent cathedral before addresses were made, including by the Reverend Patrick Irwin, the RBL's chaplain to Normandy.

The Northern Echo:
Normandy Veteran Tony Snelling, 91, talks to clergymen as he arrives at Bayeux Cathedral

Brigadier David Baines, the national president of the Normandy Veterans' Association, read the lesson - Ecclesiasticus Chapter 44 1 - 14.

It included the lines: "Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth evermore. The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will shew forth their praise."

The choir of St John's College Cambridge, directed by Andrew Nethsingha, sung Psalm 121, followed by an address by the Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, the national chaplain of the RBL.

He told the congregation: "We come to remember those who from the air, in the water and on the beaches made the supreme sacrifice."

The Last Post was followed by a minute's silence. During a hymn, Charles and Camilla, Mr Cameron and clergy and dignitaries including Scotland First Minister Alex Salmond moved to the cathedral's new bell for peace and freedom.

Following a prayer, Charles was asked to name the bell Therese-Benedicte after Therese-Benedicte de la Croix, a German Jewish philosopher.

Born Edith Stein, she was arrested by the Nazis in August 1942 and sent to Auschwitz where she died. In 1999, Pope John Paul II canonised her.

The bell, in the centre of the nave, was commissioned as a symbol of peace and liberty by the diocese of Bayeux as part of the 70th D-Day anniversary commemorations.

After Charles officially named the bell, holy water was sprinkled on to it by Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois before a prayer was said and the bell was rung.

In keeping with French tradition, the bell has a "godmother" - the Queen - and nine junior godfathers and godmothers, children from each of the Allied nations.

Outside the cathedral, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: "It's just humbling to see all these veterans coming up, many in their wheelchairs, walking with absolute determination.

"Even now it's one of the most complex operations ever undertaken by mankind."

Later, at Sword Beach, the D-Day events are expected to reach a high point.

It was at Sword Beach that thousands of troops came ashore from the Channel to help turn the tide of war into an eventual victory against the tyranny of Nazi Germany.

For many veterans, now in their late 80s and 90s, who have made the pilgrimage to honour the 156,000 Allied troops, this year's events will possibly be their last at the scene of their exploits.

At Sword Beach, French president Francois Hollande will deliver a speech followed by Mr Obama.

A re-enactment of the momentous events 70 years ago is due to be the main focus of the ceremony.

A 21-gun salute and a flypast will also form part of proceedings, but the French authorities are keeping a tight lid on exact details amid a huge security operation.

The Queen - who is in the middle of a three-day state visit to France - will travel from Paris to take her place at the ceremony along with Mr Cameron and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Prince of Wales and Vladimir Putin will also be at Sword Beach, in a potentially awkward encounter following Charles's recent remarks about the Russian president.

He reportedly criticised Mr Putin to a woman during a tour in Halifax, Nova Scotia, after she told him she fled Nazi persecution.

He is said to have responded to Jewish museum volunteer Marianne Ferguson "Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler", in an apparent parallel with Russia's annexation of Crimea in March.

Ukraine's new president Petro Poroshenko is also expected to attend the ceremony.

During face-to-face talks in Paris yesterday, Mr Cameron said he gave Mr Putin a "very clear and firm set of messages" about the crisis in Ukraine.

The hastily arranged meeting happened after the leaders of the G7 warned that Russia could face damaging economic sanctions unless it changes course.

The main international D-Day ceremony will mark the climax in this week's commemorative events remembering an operation described by prime minister Winston Churchill as "undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place".

D-Day heralded the beginning of an 80-day campaign to liberate Normandy which involved three million troops and cost the lives of 250,000.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will also play a role by attending events in Arromanches, near the Gold landing beach where thousands of British troops came ashore on D-Day.