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World leaders commemorate 75th anniversary of D-Day in south England

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World leaders commemorate 75th anniversary of D-Day in south England
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Over a dozen world leaders gathered in the south of England on Wednesday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The attendees included Queen Elizabeth II, British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and US President Donald Trump who is on the final day of a state visit to the UK.

Other leaders and senior figures from ten other countries were also due to attend.

The commemoration saw actors, singers and dancers recount the story of June 6, 1944, when American, British, and Canadian soldiers arrived in waves on five beaches in Nazi-occupied France, spanning 80km of Normandy's coastline.

D-Day was the largest seaborne invasion in history that marked the beginning of the end of World War II.

'I am going to die for my country'

Several world leaders also took to the stage to honour the sacrifice and courage made by their countrymen and women to end the war.

Trump read out an extract from a D-day prayer written by then-US president, FD Roosevelt.

Macron recited a letter from a former Resistance fighter to his parents in which he states: "I am going to die for my country. I want France to be free and the French to be happy."

May, for whom the commemoration in Portsmouth will be her final public engagement as prime minister, also read out a letter. It was written by a man called Captain Skinner to his wife on June 3, 1944.

"There is so much that I would like to be able to tell you," he wrote. "Nearly all of which you’ve heard many, many times but just to say that I mean it even more today. I’m sure that I will be with you again soon and for good."

The queen also spoke, praising the "wartime generation — my generation" for being "resilient".

She also paid tribute to the "hundreds of thousands of young soldiers, sailors and airmen" who took part in D-Day.

"Many of them would never return, and 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," she added.

The event in Portsmouth concluded with a flypast by historic and military aircraft but commemorations continued with some 250 UK and US paratroopers performing a commemorative parachute jump near Carentan, in Normandy, France.

Several veterans including Harry Read, 95, and John Hutton, 94, from Britain and Tom Rice, 97, from the US, also took part in the jump.

REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
A commemorative parachute jump in Normandy, France on June 5, 2019.REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

'A lesson to us all'

In a statement released ahead of the events, the British Prime Minister said: "As we unite to pay tribute to those whose bravery and sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy marked a turning point in World War II, we will vow never to forget the debt we owe them."

"Their solidarity and determination in the defence of our freedom remains a lesson to us all."

"Seventy-five years ago this Thursday, courageous Americans and British patriots set out from this island towards history's most important battle," Trump told a news conference in London on Tuesday.

"They stormed forward out of ships and aeroplanes risking everything to defend our people and to ensure that the United States and Britain would forever remain sovereign and forever remain free."

Later in the day, D-Day veterans — now all older than 90 — will set sail from Portsmouth on a specially commissioned ship, MV Boudicca, and retrace their journey across the English Channel. They will be accompanied by Royal Navy ships and the wartime Spitfire fighter plane.

On the other side of the channel, British air assault troops, French army paratroopers and D-Day veterans will recreate the airborne landings.

Further memorial events will take place in northern France on Thursday.

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