D-DAY heroes today wept for their mates gunned down on the beaches of Normandy as the world paid tribute 75 years on from the Allied invasion of France.
Some of the last surviving veterans from Operational Overlord shed heartbroken tears at memorial services on both sides of the English Channel for comrades who fell on June 6, 1944.
Jimmy Ockendon, 97, wept as he remembered those who lost their lives on D-Day during an emotional memorial service in Portsmouth.
Mr Ockendon said: “It was very emotional, the main person I was thinking of was my uncle who went on the Hood, his wife had died just beforehand and he left two young children and my father and mother adopted them.
“I was also thinking of my father.”
In one of her last official engagements as Conservative leader, Theresa May attended an inauguration ceremony in Normandy for a memorial to over 20,000 members of the British armed forces who died there decades ago.
The British Normandy Memorial is being built on a hillside in Ver-sur-Mer, overlooking Gold Beach, one of the key sites for British troops during the Normandy Landings.
Today’s anniversary could well be the last time veterans of the D-Day landings gather in Normandy for a major commemorative event.
Speaking to D-Day veterans today, Mrs May said: “If one day can be said to have determined the fate of generations to come, in France, in Britain, in Europe and in the world, that day was the 6 June 1944.
“More than 156,000 men landed on D-Day, of which 83,000 were from Britain and the Commonwealth.
“Over a quarter of a million more supported operations from air and sea, while the French Resistance carried out extraordinary acts of bravery from behind enemy lines.
“Many were terribly wounded, and many made the ultimate sacrifice that day, and in the fierce sacrifice that followed, as together our Allied nations sought to release Europe from the grip of fascism.”
The Prime Minister read the names of several British troops who were killed during the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy.
She said: “These young men belonged to a very special generation, the greatest generation.
“A generation whose incomparable spirit shaped our postwar world.
“They didn’t boast. They didn’t fuss. They served.”
Speaking of the names on the new memorial, she added: “We will always remember their courage and convictions.
“To our veterans I want to say the only words we can: thank you.”
Mrs May’s respectful and solemn tribute was echoed by D-Day veteran Kenneth Hay, who read from the poem Normandy by Cyril Crain, who also took part in the Allied invasion.
The poem, read in the Bayeux Cathedral today, begins: “Come and stand in memory of men who fought and died.
“They gave their lives in Normandy, remember them with pride.”
Crain landed at Juno Beach in June 1944, four days before his 21st birthday.
He died in 2014, aged 91.
Earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron joined the Prime Minister at the inauguration ceremony, where a sculpture created by David Williams-Ellis was unveiled marking the beginning of construction for the memorial.
Expected to be completed within a year, it will record the names of 22,442 members of the British armed forces who died in the D-Day landings and Battle of Normandy.
President Macron said: “I am honoured to stand alongside Theresa May today to launch construction work for the British memorial at Ver-sur-Mer.
“The British people have long dreamt of this memorial.”
Mr Macron said the monument would also be a symbol of the ties binding France and the UK.
He said: “Nothing will break them. Nothing can ever break ties that have been bound in bloodshed and shared values.
“The debates taking place today cannot affect the strength of our joint history and our shared future.”
Normandy veteran and patron of The Normandy Trust George Batts told the crowd: “They were the soldiers of democracy.
“They were the men of D-Day and to them we owe our freedom.”