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First Sea Lord honours new generation of French commandos

16 June 2017
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Britain's most senior sailor crossed the Channel to thank French WW2 heroes for the sacrifice and honour a new generation of green berets.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones was invited to join his French counterpart Admiral Christophe Prazuck - chef d'état-major de la marine, or head of naval staff - on the sands of Normandy, where 73-years-ago British-trained French naval commandos swept ashore from British ships and stormed German positions.

The assault - famously recreated in a lengthy, continuously-shot scene in the 1960s blockbuster The Longest Day - was the main action involving Free French Forces on D-Day.

As a result, it's been a cause of celebration and commemorations ever since and is today linked with a ceremony awarding green berets to newly-qualified present-day successors to the men of 1944 - berets this year handed over by the two admirals.

Time and again, we have proven how much we can achieve in partnership, for the benefit of Britain and France

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones

The highlight of the ceremony is the chance for the new marines to meet the veterans. Just four of the 177 men who stormed Ouistreham on June 6 - today a key ferry port linking Britain and France - are still alive 73 years on: Hubert Faure (aged 102), Jean Morel (94), Léon Gautier (93), Jean Masson (92).

In the run-up to D-Day, 1er Bataillon de Fusiliers Marins Commandos trained extensively alongside their Royal Navy counterparts around Achnacarry and Spean Bridge in Scotland.

The battalion, led by Philippe Kieffer, fought alongside British green berets through much of the summer of 1944, despite suffering two-thirds casualties on June 6.

Seventy-three years on, both admirals stressed the recently-reinvigorated spirit of co-operation between the two navies and two marines corps, from counter-terrorism operations in the Indian Ocean, to Merlin helicopters supporting France's key amphibious deployment of the year, Jeanne d'Arc in the Pacific and jointly keeping an eye on Russian warships passing through the Channel.

"We are the mainstay of naval power in Europe," Admiral Jones told those gathered on the sands of Normandy.

"Our leadership and our example have never been more important than they are in the 21st Century, the maritime century.

"Time and again, we have proven how much we can achieve in partnership, for the benefit of Britain and France, and for the security of our shared maritime interests."

Admiral Prazuck: "We will never forget the debt we owe to the senior partner of the Normandy landings. Today, the Franco-British naval relationship is essential to the defence of the European continent.

"Our marines and naval commandos still wear the 'English' beret - on the wrong side our comrades in the army would say - in memory of this strong bond which was born in 1942 on Scottish soil."

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