A mayor of a small town in northern France has been left outraged by news that Prince Charles will not be visiting as part of official D-Day commemorations next month, as he says he was initially led to believe.
Olivier Paz, mayor of the town of Merville in Normandy, population 2,000, has been left so incensed by the perceived snub that he travelled to London Wednesday to air his grievances in person at the Prince of Wales’s official residence, Clarence House.
Merville was the site of a key battle during the Normandy landings when, on June 6 1944, the British 9th Parachute Battalion attacked a German gun battery stationed in the town.
The British troops succeeded in putting the battery out of action, but at a significant cost, with just 75 of the 150 paras who attacked the German position surviving.
With Charles due to visit a host of D-Day battle sites around Normandy during his official visit to France on June 5 and 6, Paz and Merville’s residence had been expecting their town to be on the itinerary.
Preparations had begun in earnest to welcome Charles, Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment. Schoolchildren had spent weeks learning the words to “God Save the Queen” and €60,000 had been spent on a ceremony the mayor and the townspeople had believed the Prince of Wales would be attending.
But when the official programme was released last week, they were shocked to find there was no mention of Merville.
"We have been working for weeks to welcome Prince Charles," said Paz. "I must admit I blew a fuse when I learned he was not coming."
Prince Charles would be missing something “quite unique”, said the mayor, referring to past ceremonies held in the town.
“When you see the handful of veterans put down their walking sticks to march in front of the battery, it gets you right in the guts,” said Paz.
"I really regret that Prince Charles will not be able to see it as it's something that moves you to the core."
On Wednesday, Paz will deliver a letter, signed by 1,000 people, expressing the dismay felt in the village.
It notes that Charles will visit a number of other battle sites in the area but not Merville, leaving it as the only Battle Honour site of the Parachute Regiment not to have been visited by its Colonel-in-Chief.
"As a result, the last survivors of the 9th 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."
However, according to Clarence House, a visit to Merville had never been on the agenda.
"(The visit) was never formally on the programme," said a spokeswoman for the Prince of Wales, stressing that the prince had a packed itinerary of veterans' events scheduled for his visit to France.
She said all the Parachute Regiment's Normandy veterans had been invited to a lunch at nearby Ranville.
"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."
Charles will not be present to receive Paz’s letter in person as he is currently on a visit to Canada.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-05-21