With a nod to the present and a deep bow to the past, the King yesterday saluted the D-Day generation and their ‘resounding message of courage and resilience in the pursuit of freedom’.

As world leaders – including the presidents of the United States and Ukraine – gathered on the Normandy coast to mark the 80th anniversary of the day that changed the Second World War, the monarch struck a contemporary note.

‘We recall the lesson that comes to us, again and again, across the decades: free nations must stand together to oppose tyranny,’ he declared during his first overseas engagement since February’s cancer diagnosis.

Nothing was going to keep him from this event. Three nations were central to D-Day and he is head of state of two of them: Britain and Canada. Those men had sworn allegiance to his grandfather, George VI, whose words he quoted yesterday as he spoke of ‘a world in which goodness and honour may be the foundation of the life of men in every land’.

King Charles III and President of France, Emmanuel Macron, laugh during the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion's commemorative event

King Charles III and President of France, Emmanuel Macron, laugh during the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion’s commemorative event

King Charles III and Queen Camilla during the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion's commemorative event at the British Normandy Memorial

King Charles III and Queen Camilla during the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion’s commemorative event at the British Normandy Memorial

D-Day veteran Alec Penstone (centre), stands with Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) and his wife Akshata Murty

D-Day veteran Alec Penstone (centre), stands with Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) and his wife Akshata Murty

Queen Camilla and Brigitte Macron lay flowers at the French Memorial

Queen Camilla and Brigitte Macron lay flowers at the French Memorial

Queen Camilla speaks to D-Day veteran Henry Rice, 98, from Surrey, following the UK national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day

Queen Camilla speaks to D-Day veteran Henry Rice, 98, from Surrey, following the UK national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day

King Charles III lays a wreath during the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion's commemorative event at the British Normandy Memorial

King Charles III lays a wreath during the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion’s commemorative event at the British Normandy Memorial

Eighty years on, there were still 41 of those old warriors here at the new Normandy Memorial, out of the 54 British veterans who have travelled to France this week.

Their message was rather more succinct. ‘Bloody marvellous, pardon my French!’ declared John Dennett at the end of the Royal British Legion’s grand ceremony here.

For men like Mr Dennett, a 19-year-old gunner in a landing craft on June 6, 1944, there was a clear sense they really had done justice to the chaps who never returned.

At the last major anniversary, five years ago, Britain was still, sadly, unique among the Allies in not having a national memorial in Normandy. This place was still a building site.

Yesterday, it was hosting its first full-scale state occasion. This 44-acre site was breathtaking in the June sunshine. Its honeyed stone and immaculate lawns have already settled into the landscape, just like the craggy remnants of the vast Mulberry defences out at sea. All around us were the names – the 22,442 names – of the British who gave their lives in Normandy. They include that of Lance Corporal Walter ‘Gummy’ Gummerson of the 6th Battalion, The Duke of Welllington’s Regiment, killed on June 17, 1944 aged 26.

The day before, he had saved the life of Arthur Oborne, shot through the lung by a German sniper. Thanks to ‘Gummy’, Mr Oborne was dragged to safety and went on to enjoy a full life, a happy marriage, two children, five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren (‘and a bump’) and a career with Rolls-Royce. Eighty years on, he still lives independently in Portishead.

Yesterday, he stepped out proudly in front of the King and live BBC cameras to salute Lance Corporal Gummerson. ‘I wish I could tell him that I have never taken his sacrifice for granted and will always remember him,’ declared Mr Oborne. ‘So, Gummy – thank you my old friend.’

King Charles III looks on during the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion's commemorative event

King Charles III looks on during the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion’s commemorative event

Brigitte Macron and Queen Camilla lay flowers during the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion's commemorative event

Brigitte Macron and Queen Camilla lay flowers during the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion’s commemorative event

King Charles III and Brigitte Macron attend the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion's commemorative event

King Charles III and Brigitte Macron attend the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion’s commemorative event

The crowd rose as one with a standing ovation as Mr Oborne walked slowly back to his daughter, Elizabeth Gibson. Like many, she had long since given up holding back the tears. Afterwards, she told me that her father still has one goal left. ‘We’d love to meet a member of Gummy’s family. We know he was from Wales and he might have a relative alive somewhere,’ said Mrs Gibson. Over to readers of the Mail.

It was these simple testimonies which will stick in the mind long after this anniversary.

Until yesterday, Joe Mines had refused to return to Normandy because it had so many unhappy memories. He’d decided the 80th was the time to make his peace with the place. His words were read out by the actor Martin Freeman.

We heard how young Mines had landed right here at Ver-sur-Mer. He even had a joke about his very first order: ‘Joe Mines – clearing mines. All over the place they were.’ One of his unit duly stepped on one. ‘The whole leg went. War is brutal. I was 19 when I landed but I was still a boy. I don’t care what people say – I was a boy.’

As thunderous applause rang round at the end, Mr Mines waved shyly to the crowds. Afterwards, he told me he was glad he had made the journey, but once was enough.

King Charles laughs with President of France, Emmanuel Macron, during the Royal British Legion's commemorative event

King Charles laughs with President of France, Emmanuel Macron, during the Royal British Legion’s commemorative event 

King Charles speaks to Emmanuel Macron during the Royal British Legion's commemorative event at the British Normandy Memorial to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day

King Charles speaks to Emmanuel Macron during the Royal British Legion’s commemorative event at the British Normandy Memorial to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day

King Charles III speaks to D-Day veteran Peter Newton during a lunch

King Charles III speaks to D-Day veteran Peter Newton during a lunch

King Charles III and Queen Camilla at a lunch following the UK national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day

King Charles III and Queen Camilla at a lunch following the UK national commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day

One person who missed Mr Mines’s stirring reflections was the French premier. For reasons no one seemed able to explain, president Emmanuel Macron arrived 23 minutes late, leaving the King with an empty seat next to him.

After yesterday’s wreath-layings, and a hearty ‘three cheers for the veterans’, we had a spectacular lesson in punctuality. On the opening bars of God Save The King, the Red Arrows came roaring overhead.

Afterwards, the two heads of state and their wives mingled with the veterans.

Mr Macron certainly made up for his late arrival by staying long after his scheduled departure. He made a charming speech paying tribute to Christian Lamb, the former officer of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, whose exploits preparing secret charts for D-Day featured in the Mail the other day.

The President then turned to Mrs Lamb and pinned the Legion d’Honneur on her lapel with a double kiss. ‘Merci beaucoup,’ she replied.

King Charles III at the UK National Commemorative Event to mark the 80th anniversary of the Normandy Landings

King Charles III at the UK National Commemorative Event to mark the 80th anniversary of the Normandy Landings

King Charles III and Queen Camilla attend the UK National Commemorative Event to mark the 80th anniversary of the Normandy Landings

King Charles III and Queen Camilla attend the UK National Commemorative Event to mark the 80th anniversary of the Normandy Landings

Queen Camilla holds a white rose at the memorial event to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day

Queen Camilla holds a white rose at the memorial event to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day 

Normandy is hosting various events across significant sites such as Pegasus Bridge

Normandy is hosting various events across significant sites such as Pegasus Bridge

King Charles III meets D-Day veteran Albert Keir following the UK national commemorative event

King Charles III meets D-Day veteran Albert Keir following the UK national commemorative event

The King and Queen ensured every veteran received proper royal attention, with the result that the royal timings went haywire. Fortunately, the sovereign had no further duties in Normandy and could let this one go on – and on.

Mr Oborne enjoyed a long discussion with Queen Camilla, attributing his sturdy constitution to red wine. The daughter of a much-decorated World War II veteran who went on to be a wine merchant, the Queen was in full agreement.

When one veteran complimented the King on his rack of medals, the monarch was almost apologetic. ‘Oh these are just for various coronations and jubilees,’ he replied. ‘He’s so down to earth. One of the boys really,’ said John Dennett.

The King and Queen went on to open the memorial’s latest addition, the splendid Winston Churchill Education Centre, which will explain D-Day to future generations. Progress has been remarkable. I was here a month ago and the builders were still laying down concrete.

Yesterday, it was fully operational as the royal guests toured the exhibitions, which include an animated D-Day film and real-life stories like that of Joseph and Robert Casson, two brothers killed in Normandy. Their mother received the dreaded War Office telegrams on consecutive days.

King Charles and President of France, Emmanuel Macron shake hands

King Charles and President of France, Emmanuel Macron shake hands 

King Charles and French President Emmanuel Macron attend the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion's commemorative event at the British Normandy Memorial

King Charles and French President Emmanuel Macron attend the UK Ministry of Defence and the Royal British Legion’s commemorative event at the British Normandy Memorial

King Charles III bids farewell to Brigitte Macron as Queen Camilla looks on

King Charles III bids farewell to Brigitte Macron as Queen Camilla looks on

The King and Queen were shown round by founding trustee of the memorial Nicholas Witchell. The former BBC royal correspondent has driven this project from drawing board to yesterday’s proud moment. He was warmly congratulated at the end by the King who, as Prince of Wales, had been patron of the fundraising campaign.

Yesterday was the first time the monarch had seen it with his own eyes. He also heard the chairman of the trustees, Lord Dannatt, former head of the Army, thank notable donors, including ‘readers of the Daily Mail’. Your generosity in the early days – donating more than £750,000 – was crucial to getting this memorial under way.

Afterwards, I moved on to Arromanches where the Prince of Wales was making an unscheduled whistle-stop visit, much to the delight of the locals with whom he conversed in French. ‘Belle chemise!’ he told French holidaymaker Jean-Francois Clavel, 77, clad in a stars-and-stripes shirt.

Later, Lord Dannatt led the traditional sundown parade in this honorary British town. Even after a long day, more than a dozen veterans were here too. All sang along to Auld Lang Syne and other old favourites. At one point, Alec Penstone, 99, a D-Day submarine spotter in HMS Campania, grabbed Army chaplain Mandy Reynolds for a twirl along to We’ll Meet Again.

The sad truth is that most will not. They have already said that the 80th really will be their last trip to Normandy. This was ‘adieu’, not ‘au revoir’.

But what a glorious and noble way to say farewell.

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