A final salute to D-Day warriors

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IT was the poignancy of the sunset moment that was the culmination of the commemorative events to honour the 70th anniversary of D-Day; the Normandy Veterans’ Association’s standard being gently lowered for the final time from the very beach that its members had captured so heroically seven decades earlier in one of the decisive turning points of the Second World War.

This service, made even more special by its simplicity and the haunting sound of The Last Post echoing across Normandy, will not happen again – the passing of time meant this was the last official pilgrimage to the beaches of northern France by a diminishing number of D-Day liberators whose pride was reflected in their freshly-polished war medals that shone so brightly.

For, while it was incredibly fitting that such a historical landmark was marked by the Queen and senior members of the Royal Family coming together with world leaders to salute those who confronted the full force of Nazi tyranny, the most important guests of France were the diminishing band of brave soldiers who summoned the strength in piercing heat to stand to attention and salute the memory of their brothers who never returned home.

It was President Barack Obama who summed up the world’s enduring debt to these veterans with this tribute: “Here, we don’t just commemorate victory, as proud of that victory as we are; we don’t just honour sacrifice, as grateful as the world is; we come to remember why the Allies gave so much for the survival of liberty at its moment of maximum peril. And we come to tell the story of the men and women who did it, so that it remains seared into the memory of the future world.”

His stirring oratory, on a slightly awkward day for international diplomacy because of the hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, summed up the significance of the services of remembrance that combined the formal with the informal as the main gathering of global leaders took place on Sword Beach, where tens of thousands of British troops came ashore on June 6, 1944.

It was encapsulated by the spontaneous standing ovation afforded to the Queen as she met a guard of proud veterans on her arrival and showed her appreciation for their determination to attend the service – this was also France’s chance to offer its profound thanks to the Royal Family for its steadfastness in the knowledge that this state visit will be one of the last of Her Majesty’s reign.

But it was also an occasion to reflect on the calm serenity of this historic setting under becalmed blue skies and contrast the scene with the stormy seas of 70 years ago, when this beautiful beach was stained in blood and covered in the smoke of gunfire as the largest seaborne invasion in history charged through razor wire, booby traps and an arsenal of bullets to begin the liberation of Europe and create a beach-head for democracy.

Courage which must never be forgotten, it was summed up by the two words emblazoned either side of a poppy on the carpet of Union flags that had been planted by the Royal British Legion on Normandy’s beaches: “Thank you.”

Tories fight back: Ukip poll threat nullified for now

DAVID Cameron will draw considerable comfort from the relative ease of the Tory party’s by-election victory in Newark, and how the result halted the progress of the United Kingdom Independence Party following this month’s European elections.

By-elections, even in safe seats, have always been problematic for governing parties and the margin of victory meant the Prime Minister could dismiss the mischievous assertion that he owed his success to Labour and Lib Dem supporters voting tactically to keep Ukip out.

In many respects, the most significant story – other than the Lib Dems finishing a humiliating sixth – was Labour’s support dropping by 4.6 per cent. It does not bode well for Ed Miliband – this, after all, is a seat that his party actually captured in 1997 under Tony Blair.

Yet there are two wider lessons from Newark that Mr Cameron needs to heed if he is to secure an outright victory in next year’s election. First, the Tory success was attributed to the strength of the party’s support base locally. It now needs to recruit new teams of activists in the Yorkshire marginals currently held by Labour.

Second, the significance of the Ukip vote should not be under-estimated – even if a national campaign will stretch Nigel Farage’s resources, and the benevolence of donor Paul Sykes, to the limit. Rather than assuming that disaffected Tories will automatically return to the fold from Ukip, a more positive way needs to be found to persuade such people that the Conservatives are the only party that can deliver a referendum on EU membership.