Exterior of Halliford School

Normandy D-Day 80th Anniversary Commemoration Visit

18th June 24

Nine students from Year 8 at Halliford School have recently returned from a truly unique experience in Normandy as part of the 80th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings. Along with Headmaster James Davies and Mme Lamy from our French Department, we were hosted by the village of Rots just outside Caen. Rots was liberated by 46 Royal Marine Commando alongside members of the Canadian Forces on 11th June 1944 as part of the D-Day Landings. 33 Canadians and 22 British soldiers lost their lives in freeing the village, and ever since 2004, a group of villagers have organised every five years special celebrations to bring together veterans and young people from the UK, Germany, France, Canada and the US to share in a series of special events to mark the liberation of their village and to honour the memory of those who gave their lives during the D-Day campaign and to focus on a message of enduring peace.

Our students and staff were all hosted by members of the village, which offered us a superb opportunity to experience French culture and to significantly improve our language skills! We were able to spend time understanding the events of 1944 from so many different perspectives, talking to young people and those in the village as well as friends and family of the veterans. Sadly, this year, none of the veterans involved in the liberation of Rots are still alive, but talking to their families gave us a unique insight into these remarkable men and their heroic stories.

Each day, we engaged in some truly memorable visits to various memorials and sites in and around the village and witnessed a re-enactment of the D-Day Landings on Gold Beach from current members of the Royal Marine Commandos. Seeing them wading through the sea to make it to shore was a stark reminder of the incredible bravery of those who landed 80 years ago in somewhat different circumstances.

Each of our students had researched a soldier who was honoured at the new British Memorial in Normandy. We spent a very moving day finding their names and leaving a personal message to each of them, thanks to wooden crosses provided by our local British Legion branch. The British Memorial is currently hosting the incredible ‘standing with giants’ display of 1,475 metal figures looking out to sea in honour of the servicemen and two nurses who fell on D-Day itself. We ended our visit by laying a wreath at the foot of the names of those soldiers who died liberating the village of Rots alongside flowers from the children of Rots.

We enjoyed many amazing displays of military aircraft along the coast, both historic and modern, including the memorable sight of the Red Arrows over the top of Bayeaux Cathedral. Every road seemed to be filled with jeeps, troop transporters and tanks of all shapes and sizes and many a fond beep of the horn was exchanged as we travelled around the area. Perhaps our most hair-raising moment, though, was being pulled over at the side of the road by the French Police only to discover that seconds later, the vast Presidential Motorcade of President Joe Biden passed within a touching distance of our minibus.

The highlight of the trip, though, was our final parade through the village with all the young people from different countries alongside over 200 friends and family members of the veterans from 46 Royal Marine Commando. Following a pipe and drums band and the amazing standard bearers of Les Drapeaux de France, we marched solemnly through the tiny roads and lanes of Rots first to the Canadian Memorial. Here, accompanied by members of the Canadian Embassy, it was a proud moment for one of our students, Ben, who has a Canadian mother, as he laid the wreath to remember the 33 Canadian soldiers who lost their lives freeing the village.  After this, we witnessed the unveiling of a plaque to mark the incredible life of the last surviving veteran from 46 Royal Marine Commandos, John Harrison. His son and daughter spoke emotionally to us all and gave our boys a unique insight into their incredible father who clearly holds a very special place in the heart of the people of Rots.

We then gathered at the memorial to 46 Royal Marine Commando to honour the memory of the 22 young men, some only 18, who gave their lives to liberate the village. The mayor spoke movingly and was followed by family members of those remembered at this memorial who recounted the stories of the liberation of the village 80 years ago. As their names were read out, a vintage aircraft flew overhead as we held our two-minute silence.

The day was concluded with a unique ceremony where we placed messages of peace that we had written into a special wooden tree earlier in the day. Messages have been placed in the tree every five years and will be opened and read again in 2044 at the 100th anniversary. The day was concluded with a folk ball as all of us gathered together for a final evening of dancing and reminiscing on what had been the most incredible week of memories that will last forever as we all dedicate ourselves to honour the memories of the brave young soldiers in the words, ‘we will remember them’.

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