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1994 - Mr Major’s Speech on the D-Day Civilian Launch

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech on the D-Day Civilian Launch, made in London on Wednesday 13th April 1994.


PRIME MINISTER:

Your Grace, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am delighted to be here this afternoon and even more delighted to see that you are here.

June 6th 1944, by any reckoning I think one of the most memorable dates in history, a date that not only changed the course of the Second World War but in so doing it changed our future here in this country and the future of Europe and probably the future of the rest of the world as well. Those allied landings on the beaches of Normandy laid the foundation for the peaceful and the free Europe which today we increasingly take for granted.

I make that point at the outset for this particular reason, because the 50th anniversary of D-Day is a huge national event and I intend that it be commemorated on a national scale, and above all in these celebrations and commemorations in the weeks and months ahead we need above all to remember the bravery and the sacrifice of those who fought in the campaign itself, and I am delighted and privileged today to welcome representatives of many of those who took part in the allied landings on that occasion.

But of course not only them, because I think we should also remember the immense effort made by the whole civilian population, in the factories, in the fields, throughout the whole country the support, the build-up for D-Day and the events that were to follow D-Day. It was by any reckoning a remarkable national effort and the legacy of that effort of D–Day is peace, security and freedom for successive generations. And I hope during the next few weeks that people of all ages all across the United Kingdom will participate in a national thanksgiving.

Over the next three months we will have an opportunity to give thanks for the D-Day legacy, for our way of life, for democracy, for free speech, for peace in Europe and for all the freedoms that we enjoy. So far something over 500 events have already been planned all over the United Kingdom and those events will run from now on, through D-Day itself and right into the summer, they will cover the whole period of Operation Overlord. More events are being added to that list almost every day, they range in size and scale from events involving 50,000 people running over several days to small simple, but no less important, events involving only dozens of people. But whatever the size and nature of the event it is being planned with the same pride and the same care.

Behind me you will see over here a map illustrating where some of these events are taking place, culminating in London in July with a great family day in Hyde Park. Many hundreds of companies, voluntary organisations, national newspapers and broadcasters are contributing each in their own way to this programme. For one example perhaps amongst many, one newspaper - The Sun - is promoting street parties on Saturday 4th June all over the country. And those parties, so reminiscent I imagine of the war time spirit, will give neighbourhoods and local communities a marvellous opportunity to enjoy themselves but also to remember and be grateful.

The churches too will be playing a key part in involving people. There will be services of thanksgiving in parishes up and down the country on Sunday 5th June and in churches of all denominations. Peels of bells will be rung on that Sunday in parishes right across the land as another evocative and poignant gesture of remembrance.

I was determined from the start that these commemorations should reach out and touch all generations and especially the children of this country. And I wanted it to do that so that they would understand the part, the vitally important part, that D-Day played in the tapestry of our nation. I would like them to have, by what happens this summer, some sense of the great event itself, a sense that what is being commemorated is not just something static in the pages of a history book but something real, remarkable and of continuing relevance to all of us. Information packs on D-Day are going out to all primary and secondary schools and many schools are getting involved in special projects and events related to the commemorations.

Let me just turn finally to the gardens of Grosvenor Square. They are filled with links to our partners in the D-Day enterprise, the memorials need not be mentioned but are all around us, and it is in every way a truly fitting site for a permanent D-Day Garden of Thanksgiving to all the allies who fought together to bring freedom back to Europe.

Behind me, to my right, you will see an artist’s impression of the Grosvenor Square gardens re-landscaped as a D-Day garden of thanksgiving. I have no doubt whatsoever that it will be a beautiful peaceful haven to which people can come and find tranquility. And as they do perhaps they will cast their minds back to June 1944, perhaps they may even remember the personal message from General Montgomery which was read to the troops on the eve of D-Day. Let me remind you of what he said:

“To us is given the honour of striking a blow for freedom which will live in history and in the better days that lie ahead men will speak with pride of our doings”.

Well so we do and so we should and this spring and this summer that thread of pride will run right the way through our whole D-Day programme.

I have this afternoon a very simple task. I simply have to unveil over there a stone which bears as its inscription the theme of our celebrations. The inscription I think is very apt, the inscription simply reads: “The nation gives thanks”. I believe that accurately reflects the mood of our celebrations and I believe it accurately reflects the debt that we owe to those people, who, many of them giving their lives, many others taking great risks, fought at that time not just for their own generation but for my generation and successive generations and did so with immense heroism and bravery and were successful.

So I look forward to unveiling the stone and to the celebrations that will follow.