NORMANDY MERCHANT NAVY MEMORIAL TRUST
Founder and Chairman Donald Hunter M.N. (Rtd)
Patron: Lt. General Sir Michael Gray KCB OBE DL
Treasurer: Mr Tim Brant M.N. (Rtd)
Secretary: Mr Paul Bruno M.N.
New Merchant Navy Memorial in Normandy at Arromanches
At midday on the 6th June (The 59th Anniversary of D-Day) 2003 on the seafront in Arromanches, Normandy, the Inauguration Service of our new Merchant Navy Memorial Plaque took place. Reverend R. Loveday, Senior British Army Chaplain and French Bishop Abbe Gesnouin conducted the service in both English and French.
Mr Winston S. Churchill, the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, the wartime British Prime Minister, paid a moving tribute before unveiling our Memorial, to the role played by the Merchant Navy in World War Two and went on to quote his Grandfather’s tribute “Nothing daunted the ardour of the Merchant Navy…..their toils and tireless courage were our salvation. The sea traffic on which we depended for our existence proceeded without interruption.” After unveiling, he then read the Memorial Dedication inscription in full. I am grateful to Mr Churchill for finding time among his other many commitments to travel to Normandy to do the unveiling.
A letter was received from H.M. The Queen who sent her best wishes to the Normandy Merchant Navy Memorial Fund and “ hopes that the unveiling ceremony on 6th June, 2003 will be a memorable occasion for all those able to attend”.
So on behalf of our Committee and our Patron, I thank all those who have sent donations to our Fund and have helped me to make this Memorial possible. It is very rewarding for me to know that so many shared my aspiration to erect this Merchant Navy Memorial, which is so long overdue. I very much appreciated donations from Trinity House and the many ordinary folk who sent in their donations from many parts of the U.K. It was most heart warming to receive their support. No funding from the Government or the Lottery Fund, I am sorry to say, were forthcoming for a war memorial.
Commander David Pickthall R.N., from the British Embassy in Paris laid a wreath on behalf of H.M. The Queen. The Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Arromanches attended our Service and laid a wreath on behalf of the Council of Arromanches.
Also present were representatives from the northern Italian town of Dongo, which is twinned with Arromanches. Dongo is where Mussolini was arrested in 1945.
Wreaths were laid by Trinity House, Mr Churchill, Normandy Merchant Navy Memorial Trust, R. British Legion, Merchant Navy Association Branches, Royal Mail Line Association, Friends of War Memorials, R.Navy LST & Landing Craft Association and many others.
Some 11 Standards were paraded including the National Merchant Navy Association, Merchant Navy Association Branches, R. British Legion, Normandy Veteran Association, Royal Naval Association. My sincere thanks to those who sent their Standards and especially their Standard Bearers who should be proud of the service they performed under the very hot sun, as we all gathered to honour our WW2 Merchant Navy dead.
A large crowd attended, many of them War Veterans from Britain and the Memorial Inauguration Service was recorded for a television broadcast by the BBC TV South-east that evening. BBC Radio Kent made two broadcasts of the event, one two days before and one on the morning of the unveiling ceremony. The Brass section of the R.A.F Central Band provided the music, and various branches of the Services were represented.
The last post was sounded by a bugler of the R.A.F Central Band and followed by One Minute’s Silence, and after a Scottish Piper played The Lament. It was a very moving ceremony and I am proud to be the Founder of our Merchant Navy Memorial and to have it in place at long last.
Our new Memorial in Arromanches, the only one in Normandy, which is dedicated solely to our Merchant Navy dead. This came about when I discovered that there was not a Merchant Navy Memorial to the memory of those Seamen who paid the supreme sacrifice in “Operation Neptune” the combined Royal & Merchant Navy combined sea borne operation to land the Allied armies in Normandy between June 6th and September 1944. Over 1,200 Merchant Navy ships took part in the Landings on the five beachheads. I speak from experience, as a Merchant Navy Radio Officer, I served on a LSI (Landings Ship Infantry) from D-Day 6th June 1944 until we were damaged off the Omaha Landing Beachhead in early August 1944. I also served on aviation fuel Tankers In the “Battle of the Atlantic” in World War Two.
Now this Memorial is in place, relatives have a place to lay a wreath or a floral tribute to the memory of their love one who never returned home. Some are buried in Commonwealth War Grave Cemeteries, just those whose bodies were washed ashore or died of their wounds later. But most Merchant Navy seafarers have only a sea grave, hence the verse I have written which appears on the Memorial, now there is a permanent memorial plaque.
Look out to sea and say a prayer
For those who rest beneath,
They gave their lives that you may share
A Europe that is free.
Arromanches was chosen as the site because this was where Mulberry B, an artificial harbour, was constructed to land the armies and supplies. But Merchant Navy ships also landed troops and supplies off the beaches in addition to Mulberry harbour (also known as Port Winston). Our Memorial plaque is on the promenade wall adjacent to the D-Day Museum.
Last, but by no means least, is my grateful thanks to my wife Jean who gave me such support, without her there would not have been a Memorial.
The Plaque after unveiling.
Just a few of the many Merchant Navy sailors' graves, buried in the C.W.G.C. Cemeteries in Normandy, who were killed in the Operation to Liberate Europe on June 6th 1944 and in the weeks that followed.
Winston Churchill making his unveiling address 6th June 2003.
Remarks of Winston S. Churchill at the unveiling the Merchant Navy Memorial at Arromanches 6th June 2003, the 59th anniversary of the D-Day Landings.
On this day, when we remember the tens of thousands of British, Commonwealth, American and Allied soldiers, sailors & airmen, who gave their lives in the Liberation of Occupied Europe and the defeat of Nazism, we gather here to honour the Britain’s Merchant Navy Seafarers who gave their lives in Operation Neptune, code-name for the D-Day Landings – the largest seaborne invasion in history.
Of the more than 5,000 vessels that took part in that great Armada, over 1,260 were ships of the Merchant Navy. Britain’s Merchant Seamen played a key role in the invasion, sharing the same dangers as the men of the Royal Navy, but in slower, more vulnerable vessels, often with highly volatile cargoes such as aviation spirit or ammunition, or manning the mine-sweepers.
It was they who manned the tugs that towed from England’s South Coast the vast concrete caissons, required to build this mighty Mulberry Harbour – the key to the success of the landings – some of which, nearly 60 years on, miraculously survive to this day. Their role was crucial, as was that of their brothers who served in the Arctic Convoys succouring Russia, and in the Atlantic Convoys – without whom Britain would, quite literally, have been starved into submission.
In the teeth of the triple dangers posed by the German U-boat wolf packs, by the surface raiders and land-based aircraft, and the violence of the elements on the high seas, their courage was exemplary, their sacrifice enormous. 30,248 British Merchant Seamen were lost serving their country during the Second World War and my Grandfather paid this tribute to them: "Nothing daunted the ardour of the Merchant Navy…... their toils and tireless courage were our salvation. The sea traffic on which we depended for our existence proceeded without interruption."
The graves of those Merchant Seamen who made the supreme sacrifice are to be found in the 19 British & Commonwealth War Grave Cemeteries across Normandy. At last they are to have their own memorial to mark their heroism & sacrifice. There could be no more fitting site than here at Arromanches, which I am proud to say is still known to the locals as ‘Port Winston’. I warmly congratulate all involved in the erection of this fine memorial, especially Mr. Don Hunter, Founder & Chairman of the Normandy Merchant Navy Memorial Fund.
We salute all those who served in Britain’s Merchant Navy and, above all, those who never returned. We pay tribute to their widows and their families, many of whom are with us today. I now have pleasure in unveiling this Memorial honouring those men of the Merchant Navy who died in the Liberation of Europe, both in the D-Day Landings and in European coastal waters. May their deeds and courage live forever!
The Plaques unveiled at Arromanches.
Just before the Ceremony at Arromanches.
Donald Hunter and Winston Churchill at the unveiling.
Winston Churchill unveiling the M.N. Memorial.
MN Kent Branch Standard at the M.N. Memorial.
Floral Tributes at the M.N. Memorial.
Donald Hunter, driving force behind the Arromanches M.N. Memorial.
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