By Lydia O’Kane
Thousands of people including D-Day veterans, and Heads of State gathered in Normandy in Northern France on Thursday to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in this crucial invasion 75 years ago.
In a speech, President Donald Trump praised the heroism of American and allied service members while French President Emmanuel Macron thanked veterans “for our freedom”. “France doesn't forget” your sacrifice, he said.
Earlier in the day there was a service of remembrance in Bayeux, the first Normandy town liberated by Allied troops after D-Day.
Pope Francis, in a message read out during the service by Cardinal Marc Ouellet said, D-Day was "decisive in the fight against Nazi barbarism" and he paid tribute to those who "gave their lives for freedom and peace."
It was on 6 June 1944, that Allied forces launched a combined naval, air and land assault on Nazi-occupied France.
The campaign was known as Operation 'Overlord' and landings on the beaches of Normandy saw the beginning of a long operation to liberate parts of Europe from German occupation.
Speaking about the D-Day commemorations on Wednesday in Portsmouth and in Normandy on Thursday, the Bishop of the British Armed Forces, Paul Mason stressed the importance of remembrance.
“The D-Day landings are part of our social and political history and those who have a living memory of them are soon to pass on and I think while we have their living memory there is a particular need at the moment to ensure that we capture that. It honours them that we remember it and for all of those who died as well, it honours their memory and I think it helps cement something very important about our own national self-identity and where we’ve come from and the people who have enabled us to have the life that we have; we owe them something, so it that sense commemoration is fundamentally important.”
Heroism and sacrifice
The bishop said much can be learned from the heroism of those who took part in the campaign, in a world today that has a tendency to look to the individual and their own fulfillment. “This is a lot of people who gave everything up for what they believed in.”
The Church and the military
As these troops went to war they were able to draw from the spiritual guidance of the military chaplains who tended to their faith needs in the field. In situations such as these, Bishop Mason said, military personnel “will look for meaning, they will look for hope… and I think the Church needs to be able speak into that space”.
The good fight
Highlighting the importance of hope in dramatic situations of conflict, the bishop of the Forces noted that, “there is that sense of hope, that comes through even in these extreme situations. It’s often from these sorts of situations that heroic actions come about, that heroes come to the fore.” He added that, “there is hope in human nature that we are actually capable of being able to fight for something more than just ourselves; something we believe in and to lay down a life; our lives for something which is bigger than ourselves.”