Op The Longest Way – D-Day 80

In June 2023 the first of a number of hand crafted wreaths, sailing onboard HMS Blazer (off Falmouth) was uplifted by a Merlin helicopter from RNAS Culdrose.

A winchmen was lowered onto the deck of the P2000 and carried the first of the many wreaths in a specially created bag, by the Survival Fitters at HMS Seahawk up to the aircraft. HMS Blazer was also carrying a number of local veterans as part of the launch event, who enjoyed a morning out at sea.

The Merlin flew into Falmouth Docks to unload its crimson cargo to a waiting eighty year oid WW2 Jeep and members of the Royal Navy South West Engagement Team including Lt Cdr Trevor Brookes. The wreath then drove into the town and finished its launch event in the military village of the 2023 Armed Forces Day national event.

Since then it went on to visit D-Day training and preparation areas including the 80th anniversary event at Slapton Sands in Devon across the UK. It also toured schools, military bases, veterans groups and other organisations, to remind people of the work that went on across the country to make Op Overlord a success.

On 4 June 2024, with thanks to our friends at the Southampton Veterans Centre, the wreath was handed over with seven other hand made wreaths, one for each decade since D-Day, to the crew of HMS Dasher in the presence of the Commander Richard Skelton of the Coastal Forces Squadron, Royal Navy.

The eight wreaths represented England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Commonwealth, Canada, the USA and NATO. A ninth wreath travelled from deep within France to represent the work of the French Resistance, SOE and OSS in support of D-Day.

We were honoured that the wreaths, would sail in the wake of all those who sailed 80 years earlier to Normandy. HMS Dasher was joined by her sister ship HMS Trumpeter as they and other more historic vessels escorted the ferry service carrying D-Day veterans back to France once again.

On arrival in France they two patrol boats berthed in the shadow of Pegasus Bridge and were met by The Veterans Charity team. They invited the crews of the P2000’s and the minesweeper HMS Cattistock to lay wreaths at the midnight memorial event at Pegasus Bridge. The first of the many wreaths was laid moments after the first glider landed containing the men of the Ox and Bucks Regiment. The next day it was laid on the original Pegasus Bridge, in the museum of the same name, at the exact spot on the bridge the message “Ham and Jam” was sent. This was the message indicating both bridges had been secured.

The invited guests around the memorials were joined by thousands on the new Pegasus Bridge, to hear a recording of Major John Howard, who led the capture of the vital bridges over the Caen Canal and Orne River. It was a very atmospheric event to start the (remaining) wreath tours to key battlefield sites and memorials from Utah (in the west) to Sword Beach, to St Mere Eglise and the British Normandy Memorial.

Op The Longest Way project also carried wreaths for individual veterans to honour their relatives and these were dropped off at special sites and memorials as the team toured the Normandy battlefields.

Our team also involved other groups in our moving acts of remembrance. Including the Royal Tank Regiment Riders who undertook a wonderful wreath laying event in St Mere Eglise, complete with piper! Czech veterans assisted with the wreath laying for Goid Beach and French veterans assisted at the British Normandy Memorial.

The wreaths were created from sea shells from the beaches of the south west of England, to represent where much of the training for D-Day took place and drew many admiring comments. The event has shown a very holistic approach to remembrance, from creating special wreaths, to using them to explain the vast scale of the Operation Overlord and Neptune and many other operations that played their part in the landings that helped liberate Western Europe.

Normandy and in particular Pegasus Bridge are very special places for The Veterans Charity and in this special 80th year we were humbled by the support the event received on both sides of the channel. Thank you to all who kept remembrance moving for D-Day 80.

Our Executive Members

By @Cobseo 55 years ago

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