It was not the grand ceremony that had been planned for the opening of the British Normandy Memorial. But where there was no fanfare or crowds, instead was an intimacy and an extraordinary poignancy.
In the shadow of northern France’s Gold Beach, where many of the British troops landed 77 years ago, the names of those who lost their lives under British command have been brought together for the first time.
Michael Smallman-Tew was just nine-years-old when his father died while fighting in Normandy. He said he was “thrilled” to see his father’s name among the 22,224 British service men and women enshrined in the new memorial in the Normandy town of Ver-sur-Mer.
He said: “I am so proud that his name will be here forever, on his grave it is marked ‘they like the stars who shine forever’, and I think that phrase can be so well applied to this place.”
Normandy will forever be associated with the Allied forces and be a place where wartime enthusiasts come to re-imagine an extraordinary battle.
Away from the formal events, we met Emmanuel Lejemtel, a local “sharing his passion” for D-Day by letting families ride in his a wartime-style jeep.
Mr Lejemtel said he was here to “share his passion”.
“It is so important for me to be here today, my parents lived through the war and I’ve always heard their stories, I think it’s so important for the next generation to hear them, to understand what happened,” he added.
Bernard Faucon was here to “relive history” at a Battle of Normandy re-enactment. He said he can “see the excitement on children’s’ faces” when they hear the stories from D-Day.
Mr Faucon said marking the anniversary has been difficult this year because of coronavirus, but “things are better than last year. We are here and will be next year and for many more to come”.
The French authorities asked crowds not to gather here, but up and down the seashore young and old came to remember and there were nods everywhere to the wartime spirit.
COVID may have curbed the crowds, but it didn’t dampen the spirit here, 77 years since a battle that changed the course of the Second World War.