D-Day 80


This collection of pictures was taken by Lt. Col. Guy Bartle-Jones, Regimental Adjutant, Welsh Guards, who accompanied me to Normandy for D-Day 80. We drove 775 miles from go to woe and having had another fall three days before, I could never have achieved it without Guy’s wonderful care and help.

Arromanches, where I laid a wreath on behalf of Sir Bevil Stanier Bt. (now 90 and unable to go himself) on the memorial stone to his father, Brig. Sir Alexander Stanier Bt. who liberated France on D-Day. Thanks to Billy’s friend Adrian Cox, we were met at the waterfront by the Major, the previous mayor, and a French piper who played his bagpipes in our honour for 15 minutes as I laid the wreath. The mayor endlessly kissed me on both cheeks as a large crowd photographed us. A French lady came and kissed me on both cheeks as she handed me a stone saying “merci”. An American tank came down the slipway and continued into the water where it floated on the Channel . We could see the Mulberry harbour in the distance. 8 kms on down the road beside the coast was Asnelles where we laid another wreath to Sir Alex on the village monument which bore his name. Everywhere was thick with bunting and people waving to us.

We drove through endless flat land, planted with wheat, and reached the large St. Manvieu Imperial War Graves Cemetery where my father, Lt. Col. John E. Fass is buried with eight fellow Welsh Guardsmen. It is beautifully kept. We were alone as I laid the Welsh Guards wreath onto his headstone. We continued to Carpiquet airfield, thick with security for tomorrow and reached the bistro beyond, where we had lunch. We then drove into Caen to see the Abbey aux Hommes, the Citadel and the Abbey aux Dames (from the car) before making our way to our hub for D-Day, to check how long it would take us to drive from Lado’s.

An early 5.00 a.m. departure for the hub where Colonel Guy brilliantly found a RBL wheelchair and left me in the care of two young French volunteers while he went to park his car and walk back. A huge queue had formed, 4,000 people were expected to be bussed to Ver-sur-Mer. At 6.20 a.m. he wheeled me through to a vast security hall where we met Grenadier, Peter Carr, Royal British Legion Normandy representative, and his wheelchair-bound wife and daughter. We had to wait for a sniffer dog to put its nose into all 15 wheelchairs and cross the hall for airport-style security. From here we went to the coaches and white vans with ramps for six wheelchairs in each, and set off with police escorts on empty roads for Ver-sur-Mer.

Colonel Guy pushed me down concrete and sand paths towards the Normandy Monument. We were all given RBL booklets, a service sheet and a small bunch of large poppies as we reached the entrance of the V.I.P. enclosure, where we were invited to go to the grass on the far side beside the memorial wall – the most perfect position possible.

The band of the Royal Air Force began to play and the commemoration began. It was incredibly moving and every time one of the 40 veterans was wheeled or walked in, everyone clapped them. Rishi Sunak and his wife (dressed in white) arrived, then His Majesty The King, wearing Field Marshall uniform, with Queen Camilla, (also in white), and they all took their places under the tent to our left. A little later President Macron and his white-clad wife appeared and took their places beside their Majesties.

Very touching tributes were read, familiar hymns were sung, His Majesty The King spoke movingly and everyone stood for the Act of Remembrance followed by the Last Post, the Reveille, the Dedication, the Normandy Prayer and a piper marching from behind the Memorial Wall to “Flowers of the Forest”, followed by the wreath laying. We all gave three cheers for the veterans and sang the Marseillaise; the Red Arrows flew low over-head as we sang the National Anthem.

We were asked to remain seated while the veterans and their carers followed their Majesties and the Macrons through the two arches to David Williams Ellis’ huge memorial statue and the best view of Sword Beach, where they were each presented with a white rose and every one of their hands was shaken by all the dignitaries before President Macron gave a charming speech and presented the Legion d’Honeur to 104 year old map-reader Wren, Christian Lamb. They all then moved on and we were allowed in, leaving our poppy tributes on the way.

Finally, Colonel Guy wheeled me to pillar 119, bearing my father’s name: they are all arranged alphabetically in date order of their deaths (my father’s is June 30th). He then wheeled me across the grass to the new Winston Churchill Education Centre where a select few of us were received by General the Lord Dannatt for Pol Roger champagne and sandwiches. I sat in the sun beside the dais where Lord Dannett then received their Majesties and gave a short speech before they unveiled a plaque, signed the new visitors’ book and left with the Sunaks for Carpiquet airfield and their flight home.

We returned to the hub and drove back to Lado’s farm. On Friday 7th we left at 8.00 a.m. for our drive to Calais, Eurostar crossing to Dover and the drive home. What an incredible experience and one that I will remember with gratitude for the rest of my life.

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Serena Fass.