D-Day commemorations mark a special day
10 June 2014
Beneath a glorious French sky in towns and villages that still fly the American, British and, in some places, the Australian flag, the 70th anniversary of D-Day has been commemorated with a series of ceremonies in Normandy, France.
For the Australian Federation Guard contingent who travelled to France to participate in the ceremony and support seven World War II veterans who made the trip from Australia, June 6, 2014, started early with a cathedral service in the town of Bayeux, where the Commonwealth War Cemetery is located.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was escorted into the church by Federation Guard member Corporal Cait Bourke.
Inside the cathedral, the honour of bearing the Australian National Flag fell to AFG Contingent Commander Flight Lieutenant Mark Schmidt.
Following the service, many of the D-Day veterans, Australians included, walked or were pushed in wheelchairs along the cobblestone streets of Bayeux to the cemetery, all to the cheers and applause of townspeople who had turned out to say ‘merci`.
Of the 4144 graves at the Bayeux Cemetery, 17 are Australian, mostly pilots and aircrew who flew in support of the D-Day landings and Normandy campaign as members of the Royal Air Force.
“I’m always proud to carry the Australian flag but it was a pretty special moment, being here in the Commonwealth cemetery in France, standing with the veterans and among the graves of Australian servicemen, on ground that saw such brutal combat; it certainly is a moment I won’t forget,” Flight Lieutenant Schmidt said.
After the service at the cemetery, Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and Mr Abbott spent time with the Australian veterans and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin.
Major General Mark Kelly, the Australian Commemorative Mission Commander, said the bond between the seven veterans and the young men and women of Australia’s Federation Guard “certainly helped make June 6, and the days preceding and following, very special”.
In the afternoon, the Australian contingent travelled to Ouistreham for a major international commemorative event on Sword Beach, the site of the main British landing on D-Day. Federation Guardsmen, all dressed in ceremonial uniform, proved a major hit, posing for scores of photos on the historic sand.