THEIR BODIES might be a little frail, their knees a little weaker, but the heroes of D-Day rose to the occasion to honour their fallen comrades just as they had done as young men tasked with liberating Europe those 70 years ago.
Proof that time has failed to erode the unflinching courage of the soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944 was in the solemn faces, the silent pauses and the salutes of hundreds of veterans taking part in the service of remembrance.
The Queen led tributes to those who had made huge sacrifices in the invasion which marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War. Surrounded by world leaders, 400 Commonwealth veterans, their 2,000 friends and relatives at a British military cemetery in Bayeux, Her Majesty praised their “immense heroic endeavour”.
Silent tears were shed as the lingering tones of The Last Post evoked the memory of the bodies on the beaches.
But in a telling testament to the hardiness of the souls who risked their lives that day, Yorkshireman Ronald Elliot was as stoic as ever when The Queen and husband the Duke of Edinburgh took time to speak to him.
“It wasn’t too bad, apart from everyone trying to blow my head off,” the 92-year-old, of Sheffield, who was part of the second wave of landings onto Juno Beach, told them.
During the service, the Ode of Remembrance, whose fourth stanza begins with the memorable line:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
was read by veteran Eddie Slater, president of Normandy Veterans Association. His words echoed in the ears of Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Mr Miliband was humbled by a 90-year-old Frank Baugh, from his Doncaster North constituency, who commanded one of the first landing craft leading the attack on Sword beach.
The significance of the occasion was not lost on those who had assembled for the 70th anniversary commemorations.
Many of the veterans standing side-by-side knew that this would be their last trip to the French soil where the horrific scenes played out.
Retired barrister Roy Harding, aged 91, who had travelled from his home in Australia to be at the service, said: “I shan’t be coming over ever again; this is my last trip. I was here for the 65th anniversary and I’ve been here 12 times.”
This chapter of Mr Harding’s life, and many others, may have closed, but the memory of D-Day lives on in their hearts and minds.
He said: “When I hit the beach there was a man in front of me and a shell landed in the water, he keeled over.
“He’d lost an eye and his shoulder was smashed. I wasn’t touched, just splashed with water – and I took him to the medics.
“The East Yorkshire Regiment had the job of holding the beach and the commandos came through – they had a terrible time, there were bodies on the beach.”