Saturday, June 6, 2009

Britons angered by France's D-Day 'slight' - 6 Jun 2009

Britons angered by France's D-Day 'slight'
Tiff over the Queen's omission from memorial event reopens debate on Britain's WWII role

A US jeep driving by Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer beach, Normandy, western France on Thursday, during preparations for the D-Day celebrations to mark the 65th anniversary of the Allied landings in Nazi-occupied France. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON: A diplomatic tiff over Queen Elizabeth II's omission from the guest list for this week's D-Day commemorations has reopened a divide over who should share credit for the World War II defeat of Nazi Germany.
Britons are grumbling that their nation does not get its due - either from its wartime ally, the United States, or from the French whom it helped to liberate.

Today, US President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are due to stand side by side in Normandy to remember the Allied landings 65 years ago, when more than 150,000 troops swam, waded and parachuted onto Nazi-occupied French soil, turning the tide of the war.

The Queen - Britain's head of state, the supreme commander of its armed forces and a veteran of the wartime women's Auxiliary Territorial Service - will not be there. Prime Minister Gordon Brown was invited to represent the country instead.

'Sarkozy hijacks Longest Day,' said The Times of London, which ran a slew of letters from outraged Britons. The Daily Mail said the Queen had been 'betrayed' by the 'sorry shambles' over the event.

After days of diplomatic dallying, Buckingham Palace said on Tuesday that Mr Sarkozy had sent an invitation to the Queen's son and heir, Prince Charles, who will now be attending.

The royal compromise helped soothe ruffled British feathers, but military historian Peter Caddick- Adams of Britain's Cranfield University said the spat 'says a lot about Britain and France'.

'There is a concern in Britain that France is keen to diminish the role of the British,' he said.

At the same time, there is 'concern in French minds about their liberation at the hands of their Anglo-Saxon rivals'.

The French insisted no slight was meant, and said today's ceremony is intended primarily as a US-French event, rather than a full-blown commemoration of the Allied effort like those held on the 50th and 60th anniversaries of D-Day.

But that has left Britons feeling slighted. More than 60,000 British personnel landed on June 6, 1944, alongside 73,000 Americans, more than 20,000 Canadians and a small number of Free French commandos.

The total includes more than 130,000 soldiers who came ashore at five Normandy beaches and 23,000 airborne troop members. Many of the ships and planes that supported the landing force were British too.

Fatality estimates for the Allied forces vary, but range from 2,500 to more than 5,000 dead on D-Day.

Ms Agnes Poirier, a London-based French political commentator, said the attempt to recast D-Day commemorations as a Franco-American affair 'is not only the rewriting of history, it's lunacy'.

'Many French people are really embarrassed about this,' she added.

Britain, France and the US have always seen the war rather differently. In The Guardian newspaper, humorist Simon Hoggart summed up the British view - with tongue only slightly in cheek - as: 'The Americans took their own good time to join us but when they did, between us we rescued the useless French. And are they grateful? Don't be silly.'

Meanwhile, many historians think that arguments over whether Britain or the US played the greater part in winning the war miss the point, saying instead that it was the Soviet Union which played the decisive role.

'The British and the Americans killed only one in five Germans that were killed on the battlefield,' says Mr Andrew Roberts, author of the World War II history book, The Storm Of War.

'Four out of every five German deaths took place on the Eastern Front. Us arguing among ourselves over the glories of D-Day is squabbling over the scraps.'


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