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French village in uproar over Royal D-Day 'snub'

The Local/AFP · 20 May 2014, 14:09

Published: 20 May 2014 14:09 GMT+02:00

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British Union Jack flags had been bought and local children had spent weeks learning the words to "God Save the Queen" in anticipation of a visit by the heir to the British throne. But all that excitement has been replaced by anger and sadness, as it appears Prince Charles wil not be heading to the village of Merville after all.

Local residents had been expecting Charles, who is also Colonel-in-Chief of Britain's legendary Parachute Regiment, to attend a ceremony in Merville on June 5th but the visit was dropped from his finalised programme, which was announced last week. A spokeswoman for the Prince has however denied that he has snubbed Merville insisting the visit was never formally part of the programme.

Merville mayor Olivier Paz is so outraged by the perceived snub that he plans to travel to London on Wednesday to personally deliver a plea letter to Charles at his official residence, Clarence House.

"The people of Merville are very upset. We had been preparing for the visit for weeks," Paz told The Local on Tuesday. "We thought he was going to come so our expectations were high and then to be let down at the last minute. There was so much enthusiasm, people had been preparing their British flags. That's why everyone is so upset.

"We have never had a visit from a member of the Royal Family and this may be the last chance as there may be no veterans left by the time of the 75th anniversary comes around," Paz said. 

Paz's letter, which has been signed by 1,000 people, expresses the dismay felt in a village which features on the Parachute Regiment's 'Battle Honours' - the list of battlesites emblazoned on the regiment's colours.

(The town of Merville where Prince Charles had been due to visit)

It notes that Charles will visit a number of other battlesites in the area but not Merville, leaving it as the only Battle Honour site of the regiment not to have been visited by its Colonel-in-Chief.

"As a result, the last survivors of the ninth battalion, those who distinguished themselves on D-Day with their selflessness and pugnacity, will never have the honour of a visit by their Colonel-in-Chief," Paz writes in the letter.

"We cannot believe it and we want to inform you of our distress and great sadness."

Merville was targeted on D-Day because it was the site of major German gun battery. The British paras succeeded in putting it out of action, but at a huge cost.

"Out of 700 men only 75 emerged alive after the assault," Paz said.

"I have seen hundreds of people weeping at ceremonies there. When you see the handful of veterans put down their walking sticks to march in front of the casemate, it gets you right in the stomach.

"I really regret that Prince Charles will not be able to see it as it's something that moves you to the core."

The mayor issued a plea to the future king to  change his plans.

Story continues below…

"Obviously he's the Prince, he can do whatever he wants but he should come to Merville. We are so close to the British, we love them here. We've done so much and that's why we are sad," Paz told The Local. 

A spokeswoman for the Prince's office at Clarence House insisted: "(The visit) was never formally on the programme.

However, the spokeswoman pointed out that one of the events Prince Charles was hosting was a lunch at Ranville, to which all the Normandy regiment veterans were invited.

"This includes those who fought at the Merville battery," she said. "All the local mayors have been invited, and that includes the mayor of Merville."

The prince's spokeswoman said that any petition would be received but said he was currently in Canada. She added that the palace viewed any correspondence as private.

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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