French village in uproar over Royal D-Day ‘snub’

UPDATED: A French village is up in arms after learning Prince Charles will not, as they had initially been led to believe, be visiting for next month's 70th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landings. Prince Charles' office however denied any visit had been planned.

French village in uproar over Royal D-Day 'snub'
Princes Charles will not be visiting Merville, much to the anger of residents in the French village. Photo: AFP

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 But all that excitement has been replaced by anger and sadness, as it appears Prince Charles wil not be heading to the village of Merville after all.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.

"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.

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Plans for ‘D-Day Land’ tourist attraction in northern France spark anger

Plans for a permanent tourist attraction to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings have sparked protest with some accusing the idea of being a 'theme park' that is disrespectful to the men who fought and fell.

Plans for 'D-Day Land' tourist attraction in northern France spark anger
Photo: AFP

Plans have been put forward by the head of the Normandy regional council, Hervé Morin, to create a permanent site in the region to mark the D-Day landings of 1944.

Every year around 5 million people visit Normandy for 'remembrance tourism' but there is no single museum that unites all aspects of the massive Allied military operation that ultimately lead to the Liberation of France and the end of the Second World War.

But despite the plans being at a very early stage – although the aim is to have it completed in time for the 80th anniversary of the landings in 2024 – they have already sparked controversy.

The description of the idea as a spectacle (show) has lead some to describe it as insulting to the thousands of men who lost their lives on the beaches of northern France during the landings.

Every year around 5 million people travel to Normandy to visit cemeteries and D-Day sites. Photo: AFP

Already a petition against the idea – which has been dubbed 'D-Day Land' by its detractors – is circulating.

Set up by the Groupe National de Recherche 1939-1945 (national group of 1939-45 researchers) the petition states: “The Normandy Region has announced a project to create a “D-Day Land” for the 80th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. This will seriously harm the ecology of the area but also lacks respect for the veterans and the people killed during the Normandy landings and the battle that followed.

“The Normandy landings is a page in the history of France that must be respected and not give way to a faction of local business that will only serve to destroy the work done for years by associations of memory but also to lovers of this page of history.”
Local officials in Normandy believe the attraction will be of benefit to the region and many of the sites already dedicated to parts of the D-Day landings, such as the Caen Memorial, have given a cautious welcome to the project.
Hervé Morin is talking about private investment to the tune of €100 million for the project, which its has been suggested could be a multimedia affair with film projections and light shows.
Olivier Paz, mayor of Merville-Franceville, told local paper Ouest France that the project must not be “allowed to become Disneyland”.
An artist's impression of the new memorial at Ver-sur-Mer. Photo: AFP
The idea is not the first time that D-Day remembrance has sparked controversy in the area.
A huge permanent memorial to the British soldiers who died that day – jointly inaugurated by French president Emmanuel Macron and former British Prime Minister Theresa May at the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 2019 – also caused a row.
Locals in the small village of Ver-sur-Mer where memorial is constructed feared that their protected agricultural land would be turfed over and destroyed, an some organised a march to protest at the plans.