The Prince of Wales has thrown his “wholehearted support” behind a charity which will build a D-Day memorial in Normandy.
Charles will become royal patron of the Normandy Memorial Trust, which has been planning a fitting tribute in memory of more than 20,000 members of the British armed forces who died in Normandy in the summer of 1944.
The British Government has provided a £20 million grant, and the trust is hoping to fundraise a further £9 million through its 22,442 Sacrifice For Freedom campaign.
It is a project the Prince of Wales said he was “delighted” to back, adding that he had “long been concerned that the memory of these remarkable individuals should be preserved”.
In a video message played at the campaign launch at the National Army Museum on Thursday evening, he said: “I have long been concerned that the memory of these remarkable individuals should be preserved for generations to come as an example of personal courage and sacrifice, for the benefit of the wider national, and, indeed, international, community.
“I was therefore delighted to learn of the plans by the Normandy Memorial Trust to create what I believe is a long overdue British memorial in northern France to the 22,500 service personnel under British command who gave their lives in Normandy in the summer of 1944.”
He added: “I take great pride in offering my wholehearted support to the memorial and I hope that others who cherish the memory of those gallant men and women, and who value the freedoms for which so many of them gave their lives, may also wish to offer the project their support.”
The first foundation stone will be laid in a ceremony on June 6, the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings, when more than 150,000 British, American and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along the heavily fortified French coast.
The huge invasion ultimately led to the liberation of western Europe from Nazi occupation.
Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron have both committed to attending the ceremony, the trust said.
Construction will begin later in June, with the memorial hoped to be finished within a year.
It will be built on a hillside overlooking Gold Beach, one of the beaches where British troops landed, and will include a roll of honour of the names of 22,442 members of the British Armed forces who died in the D-Day landings and battle of Normandy.
Lord Peter Ricketts, chairman of the Normandy Memorial Trust and former British Ambassador to France, told the Press Association: “The idea for a national memorial in Normandy came from the veterans – we have the cemetery… but there is no one place where all the names of all those who fell under British command in that battle of Normandy came together.”
“The public reaction from families and comrades has been very, very warm.
“It’s time we had a national memorial with 22.5 thousand names.”
War-time prime minister Winston Churchill’s great grandson Randolph Churchill said he had seen the plans and that the memorial would be “truly stunning and beautiful”.
He said: “My great grandfather would have been absolutely thrilled to know it’s being commemorated in this way, and I feel that we only have our freedoms, our liberties, in this country because of those heroes that gave up their lives in the Second World War, and to mark this properly is the most important thing we can do.”
Harry Billinge, a D-Day veteran who has raised £5,000 for the campaign, said he returns to Normandy each summer.
The 93-year-old, who lives in Cornwall, said he found it “very difficult, but I go because I’m duty-bound to”.
Accompanied by his wife, Sheila, he said: “I do get very upset and I can’t help that.
“It means a lot to me – there are no words – it’s indescribable.”
Later in the evening, a film of Mr Billinge visiting the site where the memorial is planned was played to around 300 guests who applauded him.
In the footage, he said: “I think it’s a wonderful position, marvellous, peaceful too, wonderful.”
He added: “It will be worthy of all them poor devils who never came back and I will always think of those fellas.”