UK prepares to host veterans and world leaders for unprecedented D-Day commemorations

Prime Minister Theresa May will watch veterans retrace their journey to Normandy from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. The UK is preparing to host unprecedented commemorations in Portsmouth this week to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Over 4000 personnel will be involved in D-Day events in the UK and France, making this one of the biggest mobilisations of the UK Armed Forces in recent years.

Secure Freedom

On Wednesday 5 June, world leaders will join Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales and members of the armed forces to pay tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of the troops who fought to secure Europe’s freedom. Representatives from every country that fought alongside the UK in Operation Overlord – the Battle of Normandy – will attend one of the greatest British military spectacles in recent years, alongside over 300 veterans.

In Keeping

This includes President Trump – on the final day of his State Visit – President Macron of France, Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada and Prime Minister Morrison of Australia, as well as leaders and senior representatives from New Zealand, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Denmark. Chancellor Merkel of Germany will also attend, in keeping with previous D-Day anniversary events. This is the first time the UK has hosted this many world leaders outside a formal summit since the 2012 Olympics.

Meticulous Planning

Wednesday will see an hour-long performance on Southsea Common – produced by the BBC – telling the story of D-Day and the meticulous planning by allied forces that paved the way for the invasion of Normandy. The event will feature testimony from veterans, theatrical performances and live music, culminating in a flypast of 24 aircraft – old and new – including the Red Arrows and the historic Spitfire.

During the performance, the Prime Minister will read a letter written by Captain Norman Skinner of the Royal Army Service Corps to his wife Gladys on 3 June 1944, which was in his pocket when he landed on Sword Beach on 6 June. He was killed the following day, leaving his wife and two young daughters. The letter includes the following lines:

My thoughts at this moment, in this lovely Saturday afternoon, are with you all now.

I can imagine you in the garden having tea with Janey and Anne getting ready to put them to bed.

Although I would give anything to be back with you, I have not yet had any wish at all to back down from the job we have to do.

Critical Moment

After the display, the leaders will join veterans at a reception where they will have the opportunity to pay their respects to those who played a role in this critical moment in our shared history. Leaders will then sit down to a lunch together where they are expected to discuss the enduring importance of the western alliance and the values that underpin it for our shared security and prosperity today.

Ahead of the D-Day commemorations, Prime Minister Theresa May said:

This week, people throughout Britain will pay tribute to the men and women who gave their lives during D-Day and for the liberation of Europe in World War Two.

This year’s commemoration will be particularly poignant and I am honoured to be able to mark the 75th anniversary of the landings alongside the veterans who were there.

It is the sheer scale of D-Day that made it such an awe-inspiring feat. Troops from around the world fought together with a common goal and with a shared ideal.

And so it is right that together we reflect on and celebrate the cooperation that helped to secure the freedom we cherish today.

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said:

It is government’s hope that D-Day75 leaves a lasting legacy and provides an opportunity for people young and old to reflect on the achievements and sacrifice of our Second World War generation. Over the next few days it will be a privilege for us all to learn more of these extraordinary men and women.


Early on Wednesday evening, the 300 veterans – all over 90 years old – will leave Portsmouth on the MV Boudicca, a specially-commissioned ship chartered by the Royal British Legion and escorted by HMS St Albans – a Type 23 Frigate. The veterans will sail once again to Normandy – retracing the journey they made across the channel 75 years ago. As the MV Boudicca emerges into the Solent it will be met by a flotilla of Royal Navy vessels – with sailors lining the decks in salute to pay their respects, while a lone Spitfire flies overhead.


The Prime Minister will be aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, which will be docked in Portsmouth for the commemorations, to wave off the veterans. The Defence Secretary and the First Sea Lord will join her on the deck to watch the historic sail-past. In Normandy, Wednesday afternoon will see the Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade descend from the skies from RAF C-130 Hercules aircraft and C-47 Dakotas on Wednesday afternoon, alongside French Army paratroopers, to recreate the historic airborne landings. D-Day veterans will also be jumping from Dakotas as part of the re-enactment.


The Normandy commemorations will begin on Thursday 6 June in Arromanches at 0726 local time with a lone piper from the British Army marking the exact moment the first British soldier landed on Gold beach. The Prime Minister will be in Normandy on Thursday to witness the inauguration of a new memorial to British servicemen at Ver-sur-Mer, alongside President Macron, and attend services of commemoration and remembrance at the cathedral and cemetery in Bayeux – the first town to be liberated by the allied forces.


Fred. Olsen’s Boudicca on special mission for D Day veterans

D Day veterans will be returning to Normandy this weekend on board a boat from Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines of Ipswich.  They will be setting sail on the Boudicca, part of the Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines fleet, for the Royal British Legion’s (RBL) historic D Day 75 Voyage of Remembrance.

300 Veterans

The Boudicca will depart Dover under charter to Suffolk-based Arena Travel, on behalf of the RBL, carrying up to 300 veterans plus their carers and companions. They will be attending a series of commemorative events in both England and France to mark the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings on the five beaches of Gold, Sword, Juno, Omaha and Utah, on June 6, 1944. Boudicca’s exterior has been decorated with the RBL’s red poppy insignia, most notably on the bow, stern and deckhouse.


Peter Deer commercial director at Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines said: “It is a tremendous honour for us to be part of The Royal British Legion’s commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, in what is set to be a very emotional voyage for these veterans and their loved ones.

“We are very proud that our cruise ship, Boudicca, will be following the same path as the ships involved on that momentous day.”

Stand In Awe

Bob Gamble, the RBL’s assistant director for commemorative events, said: “Seventy-five years ago, the largest seaborne invasion force in history set sail for France on a mission to liberate Europe.

“Alongside their American cousins, nearly 160,000 men from Britain and the Commonwealth landed on the beaches of Normandy. “Today, we stand in awe of their achievement and salute their bravery and sacrifice, on our journey back to Normandy.”

Boudicca will arrive in Le Havre on June 6, 75 years to the day when thousands of Allied troops poured ashore on the Normandy beaches to begin the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe. Veterans will disembark early in the morning to attend a memorial service at the Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, followed by a late afternoon of local events at Arromanches.

Celebratory Activities

The following day, after an overnight stay in Le Havre, veterans will have the opportunity to visit the British beaches – Sword and Gold – as well as Pegasus Bridge, the British Normandy Memorial and the Arromanches Military Museum. Boudicca will return to Portsmouth on June 8. To mark the Queen’s birthday, a day of celebratory activities has been planned – including a screening of the Queen’s birthday celebrations – and the city will be laying on a firework display in the evening.


James takes RBL Galanos House for a ride at the NMA

The National Memorial Arboretum seems to have an extra glow during the school holidays, a little less sombre perhaps with hundreds of schoolchildren asking questions requiring thoughtful and considered answers; all seeming to justify the existence of the NMA and its role in the consciousness of our nation.

Hand Over

Fitting then, that three separate Royal British Legion cogs met up today (30/05/19) to add another dimension to the success story of the NMA. The RBL’s largest branch St James’s, along with residents and staff from the RBL’s multi-award retirement home Galanos House convened at Alrewas to hand over a brand new wheelchair adapted buggy, taking it for its first outing with two of our beneficiaries residents/veterans of Galanos House.


An enjoyable, successful day that will ensure more visitors have the opportunity to move amongst the 350 memorials across 150 acres in comfort and safety; no matter what level of mobility they experience.


Less Than A Quarter Of Companies Know About Military Covenant, Says Report

Less than a quarter of British organisations have heard of the Armed Forces Covenant, according to a new report. Twenty-four per cent of companies have heard of the Covenant, which is a pledge made by the government that those who serve their country, veterans and their families are treated fairly. Only eight per cent of companies have signed the promise, which came into law in 2011.


The report, ‘Benefit not Burden, commissioned by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), says the smaller the organisation is, the less likely it is to be aware of the covenant or to have signed it or take any action. Now the FiMT is calling for increased awareness around the benefits of signing up to the covenant and being a veteran-friendly employer.


To date, more than 3,000 organisations have signed the covenant including business and charities. Meanwhile, 28% of organisations surveyed in the research claimed they are likely to sign the covenant over the next year, Ray Lock, Chief Executive of the Forces in Mind Trust, said:

“Ex-Service personnel offer a substantial premium of capability to a prospective employer.

“[This report] has identified some straightforward steps that could be taken relatively easily, and which would result in a substantial improvement in how the nation fulfils its side of the Covenant.”


May’s Membership Newsletter Published

The May Newsletter features,                                                                                                                                                    

  • Poppy Appeal Trophy Winners
  • RBL’s BAFTA Win
  • D-Day 75
  • New Website
  • This Month’s Poll

Editor                                                      Read the Newsletter here


Number of servicewomen on UN Peacekeeping operations to increase

Penny Mordaunt has announced her intention to increase the number of women on peacekeeping operations as a commemorative ceremony took place at the Cenotaph. Minster for the Armed Forces Mark Lancaster commemorated the sacrifice and successes made by UN Peacekeepers around the world during a ceremony at the Cenotaph.

As a demonstration of the commitment to UN Peacekeeping operations and the importance that they play in protecting communities, the Defence Secretary has announced a number of new measures to reaffirm the role of servicewomen on these important operations:

  • Ensure enough UK women are deployed to the UN peacekeeping operation in Cyprus to enable mixed gender patrols and commit to a minimum of 6% of personnel being women who are available for patrols
  • Conduct a MOD study to identify barriers to women joining peacekeeping operations and action the results of the study
  • Reaffirm the commitment that women make up at least 15% of UK personnel on UN peacekeeping missions by 2028

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said:

The protection of innocent civilians is some of the most valuable work that our Armed Forces undertake, and it is often done in the most dangerous places in the world.


Our armed forces already provide an invaluable contribution to peacekeeping operations both by protecting vulnerable women and empowering them to help bring about lasting peace. Having women in these roles is absolutely vital. On the day that we remember all those who have contributed to the successes of peacekeeping around the world, it is right that we redouble our efforts to engrain the role of women into our own operations.

Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN, Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon said:

It is important to pay tribute to the more than 3800 UN peacekeepers who have given their lives in the name of peace. We owe our peacekeepers a huge debt of gratitude, and we owe it to them to ensure they are the best they can be.

That is why the UK Government remains committed to supporting the UN Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping agenda, and promoting the “three Ps” approach including better Planning of missions; more Pledges of quality people and equipment; and better Performance.


It is right that our peacekeeping forces better reflect those they serve and protect and increasing the number of women in peacekeeping and promoting women’s meaningful inclusion in peace processes is a fundamental part of the UK’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

The UK currently has around 600 personnel deployed on UN peacekeeping operations around the world, including approximately 270 in Cyprus and 300 in South Sudan.

British troops in South Sudan have recently begun work to build a new hospital in Malakal, their second for the UN mission, in a display of the diversity of capabilities provided by UK personnel. The Royal Engineers have been tasked to work with the Indian Army and build a new hospital, delivering vital medical support and allowing the UN to continue to deliver their mandate in Malakal, where there is a large Protection of Civilians camp.

Minister for the Armed Forces Mark Lancaster said:

Across the globe we have hundreds of highly skilled servicemen and women who, in challenging conditions, put their lives on the line to protect innocent civilians and contribute to lasting peace in the places that need it the most.


In building this new hospital the Royal Engineers are allowing the UN mission in South Sudan to continue and ensure the safety of thousands of displaced people who otherwise would be vulnerable to dangers that many in the UK cannot comprehend.


‘Shores Of Normandy’: D-Day Veteran Releases Charity Single For 75th Anniversary

A veteran has released a charity song to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. 90-year-old Jim Radford’s ballad ‘The Shores of Normandy’ Youtube Video aims to raise money for a British Normandy memorial.


The monument is to commemorate the 22,442 British men that lost their lives on the beaches and set up to leave a permanent legacy behind overlooking Gold Beach. The memorial, in the small French village of Ver-sur-Mer, is being inaugurated by the Prime Minister and French President on 6 June. On the morning of the invasion, 75 years ago, Jim was serving with the Merchant Navy as a galley boy, when his ship reached Gold Beach.

He did not return to Normandy for 25 years. “Gold Beach was a terrible sight,” Jim says. “It was piled high with equipment and burning landing craft, but as we got closer you could see a lot of bodies”. On his first trip back there in 1969, he was greeted with a very different scene: “I saw the children playing upon the beach.” His song tells of the horrors, but also the happiness he felt seeing the beaches again full of life and hope.


The launch on Wednesday was on board HMS Belfast – a ship that was used on 6 June to support troops landing at Gold and Juno beaches. “I was overwhelmed with the recollection of what I had seen and moved to tears by the contrast. I had to express that somehow and I was into folk music. “It took me a long time from when I had written it to be able to sing it in public because it was such a powerful and emotional recollection for me. “I hadn’t realised when I wrote it that I would transfer, communicate any of that emotion, but apparently I do because after I did the first recording at the Albert Hall, lots of people contacted me and said I made them cry.”

Like so many, Jim will be returning to Normandy in June to pay his respects.


Schhhhh! Will you sponsor me?

Spies from GCHQ take part in covert charity bike ride

Spies from security agency GCHQ have taken part in a covert bike ride for charity. The 100-strong cycling team cycled 125km (77.7 miles) from Bletchley Park to Cheltenham to mark its centenary. The six-hour ride took place on Sunday and included GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming.

The event was kept secret to protect the identities of the riders hailing from divisions like counter-terrorism and cyber security. The challenge is expected to raise around £30,000, which will be split between its chosen charities. The race started at 07:45 BST and travelled through Thornborough, Mixbury, Chipping Norton and Stow-on-the-Wold before finishing at its base in Cheltenham just after 14:00.

Mr Fleming said: “Our secret cycle was a great way to help charities we all feel passionately about. “It was also another chance to celebrate our centenary and mark a history full of amazing intelligence, world-leading innovation, and most of all ingenious minds.” Half of the money raised will be donated to Cancer Research UK, with the rest split between Heads Together, the Royal British Legion and Code Club. The Queen celebrated GCHQ’s centenary earlier this year with a visit to its former top secret base, Watergate House in London.


Armed Forces Recruitment A ‘Staggering Failure’, Labour Says

Recruitment numbers have fallen for eight consecutive years, putting the Army more than 3,500 below their 82,000-target (Picture: Crown Copyright).

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has been accused by Labour of a “staggering failure” in recruiting people to the armed forces.

Ms Griffith said Penny Mordaunt’s predecessors “completely failed to get to grips with it”.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Griffith welcomed Ms Mordaunt to her new role and said she was looking forward to working together in areas of “clear consensus”.

“One of those areas is personnel numbers”, the Shadow Defence Secretary said.

“Every service is now smaller than it was at this time last year, the Army alone has seen a drop of 2,000 trained personnel, which is a staggering failure after all the promises we’ve heard at that despatch box.

“Her predecessors completely failed to get to grips with it, so what is she going to do differently to turn things around?”

In response, Ms Mordaunt pointed to the work being done by Armed Forces Minister Mark Lancaster “to increase recruitment and retention in our armed forces”.

She said: “Part of it is also talking up and explaining what our armed forces do and I sincerely wish that more people followed the Honourable Lady’s lead and did that and supported our armed forces, why they are important to society, why they are important to social mobility and everything this great nation stands for.”


Hospital trusts pledge to improve support for veterans

A series of NHS trusts have been recognised for their commitment to care for the armed forces community as part of an initiative which is working to help “brave veterans win their personal battles” in health. An additional eight hospital trusts have been accredited as ‘Veteran Aware’ by the Veteran Covenant Hospital Alliance (VCHA).


The programme aims to support all NHS trusts to ensure that servicemen and women are never disadvantaged compared to other patients and that all staff are trained on how to support the needs of veterans. The latest accreditations come under the programme’s second wave, meaning there are now a total of 33 trusts on board. The VCHA’s goal is to get every trust on board with the scheme. 

Professor Tim Briggs, chair of Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT), which manages the VCHA, said: “These trusts should be very proud of the commitment they have made to the servicemen and women of this country. “Welcoming them into the VCHA is a major step towards our aim of ensuring every NHS trust in the country is Veteran Aware,” said Professor Briggs, who is also the co-chair of the VCHA and NHS national director for clinical improvement.


General Lord Richard Dannatt, patron of the VCHA and former head of the British Army, said: “I am delighted that a second wave of our top hospitals has joined the VCHA.  “Although the British Armed Forces are not currently engaged in high profile campaigns such as in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, the health and wellbeing battles for many veterans continue,” he added. “The VCHA is playing a major part in helping our brave veterans win their personal battles,” he said.

To be awarded as ‘Veteran Aware’, each trust has to meet a number of key pledges. They must ensure that the armed forces community is never disadvantaged compared to other patients, in line with the NHS’s commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant. Trusts must also ensure that staff are provided with relevant training on veteran-specific cultures or needs and that they give veterans fair job opportunities.


In addition, trusts must make veterans, reservists and service families aware of the appropriate charities or NHS services beneficial to them, such as mental health services or support with financial or benefit claims. Trusts recognised as Veteran Aware will display posters in their clinics and public waiting areas urging anyone who has served in the armed forces to make themselves known to staff. The latest accreditations were announced at the VCHA annual workshop in Birmingham on 9 May.

For this year’s VCHA annual workshop, around 120 guests from more than 60 trusts attended. The day saw organisations share best practice and learn more about the care needs of members of the armed forces. Following the success of the event, the VCHA hopes to announce two further waves of acute trust accreditations during 2019, as well as agreeing to the Veteran Aware manifestos for ambulance and mental health trusts.

The latest trusts to become accredited members are:

  • Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust
  • Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust
  • Weston Area Health NHS Trust

The first wave of trusts to be accredited in 2017 were:

  • Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals, Sussex Armed Forces Network;
  • Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust;
  • City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust;
  • Doncaster and Bassetlaw Foundation Trust;
  • East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust;
  • Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust;
  • Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust;
  • Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust;
  • Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust;
  • Norfolk and Norwich NHS Foundation Trust;
  • North Bristol NHS Trust;
  • North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust;
  • Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust;
  • North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust;
  • Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust;
  • Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital NHS Foundation Trust;
  • Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust;
  • Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust;
  • Royal Edinburgh Hospitals, NHS Lothian;
  • Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust;
  • Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust;
  • South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust;
  • Cardiff and Vale University Health Board;
  • University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
  • Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust