Theresa May has paid tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice at an inauguration ceremony of a new British Normandy Memorial in France, 75 years on from D-Day.
She joined French President Emmanuel Macron at the event in Ver-sur-Mer, Normandy, on one of her final official engagements as Conservative leader.
They laid wreaths at the foundation stone for the new memorial, which will list the names of all 22,442 members of the British armed forces who died in the Normandy campaign in summer 1944 and overlooks Gold Beach, where many of the troops arrived on D-Day.
Speaking at the service, Mrs May said: “It’s incredibly moving to be here today, looking out over the beaches where one of the greatest battles for freedom this world has ever known took place.
“And it is truly humbling to do so with the men who were there that day.”
She continued: “Standing here as the waves wash quietly on to the shore below us, it is almost impossible to grasp the raw courage it must have taken that day to leap from the landing craft and into the surf despite the fury of battle.
“If one day can be said to have determined the fate of generations to come in France, in Britain, in Europe and the world, that day was June 6 1944.”
The Prime Minister also paid tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, saying: “They laid down their lives so that we might have a better life and build a better world.”
Addressing the audience, Mr Macron said: “I am honoured to stand alongside Theresa May today to launch construction work for the British memorial at Ver-sur-Mer.
“The British people have long dreamt of this memorial.”
He added: “It is time to remedy the fact that no memorial pays tribute to the United Kingdom’s contribution to the Battle of Normandy.”
Mr Macron said the monument would also be a symbol of the ties binding France and the UK, adding: “Nothing will break them. Nothing can ever break ties that have been bound in bloodshed and shared values.
“The debates taking place today cannot affect the strength of our joint history and our shared future.”
He assured Mrs May of his friendship, adding: “Leaders may come and go but their achievements remain. The force of our friendship will outlast current events.”
Seven British D-Day veterans were accompanied by four children, including Sir Winston Churchill’s great-great-grandson John Churchill, who accompanied Ronald Clements, to lay flowers in front of a sculpture at the memorial depicting three British soldiers storming the beaches.
The sculpture was created by David Williams-Ellis to mark the beginning of construction for the memorial, funded by the Normandy Memorial Trust, which is expected to be completed within a year.
Mr Clements was a petty officer in the Royal Navy on board the 900-tonne frigate HMS Mountsea, protecting the convoys approaching the landing beaches on D-Day from Nazi attacks.
He helped drop depth charges at U-boats with “little success”, including targeting one which had earlier sunk an Allied troop ship and was then destroyed by a Canadian vessel.
Mr Clements, from Whitstable, said he was not scared at the time, despite heavy shelling.
Now 98, he said it is “fantastic” that the memorial is being built.
He said: “It should have been done long ago but it’s never too late.”
Later, Melvyn Dunn, 77, visited the memorial with his wife Janice to lay a wreath in memory of his father Walter Dunn who fought in the Normandy campaign.
He landed nine days after D-Day with the Kings Own Royal Regiment of Lancaster and fought through into Germany, leaving the Army in 1945, aged 44, 20 years before his death.
Mr Dunn, from Ackworth, West Yorkshire, said he is in the dark over which beach his father landed on as he never spoke about the war, meaning the new memorial in the centre of the British landing area is a “wonderful place to lay his wreath”.