Virus forces scaled down D-Day commemoration in France

Celebrations that normally draw big crowds were held without veterans and were intentionally "simple, sombre and strong" (AFP Photo/Sameer Al-DOUMY)

Vierville-sur-Mer (France) (AFP) - The 76th commemoration of the World War II allied landing in France was cut to a strict minimum on Saturday owing to restrictions stemming from the coronavirus.

Celebrations that normally draw big crowds were held without veterans and were intentionally "simple, sombre and strong" in the words of French junior armed forces minister Genevieve Darrieussecq.

The fighting involved more than 200,000 soldiers from both sides by the end of June 6, 1944, and while a precise death toll has not been established, the BBC cites as many as 4,400 among the Allies, and an estimated 4,000 - 9,000 Germans.

At Vierville-sur-Mer, known to many as Omaha Beach, the Patrouille de France air display team made two passes on Saturday, trailing blue, white and red smoke to open a ceremony attended by around 100 people, including ambassadors from eight allied countries and Germany.

Representatives from Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and the United States marked the military operation comprised of "soldiers who fought for the values of our republic, our freedom, our democracy", Darrieussecq told media.

After their nation's flags were raised and wreaths were laid, the shortened ceremony ended as US F-15 jets and a refuelling tanker flew overhead.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a message posted on Twitter: "I am thinking of those who, thousands of kilometres from home, fought to liberate France alongside our resistance fighters.

"Let us come together, in the name of freedom. Never forget our heroes."

Marie-Christine Costy, president of a local association, told AFP: "Unfortunately this year we cannot attend the ceremony, which I never miss, it's a shame."

She said many people had cancelled trips to the area, which was "a bit of a catastrophe" for those who depended on tourism.

While many ceremonies were also cancelled, a few were held at the British cemetery in Bayeux, at Juno Beach, where Canadian soldiers landed, and at the US cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, where Charles Norman Shay, 96, was the sole US veteran in attendance.

French commemorations also took place in Arromanches and Ouistreham to honour 177 French marines who were the only uniformed French troops to take part in the landings.