Royal Marines follow in the footsteps of D-Day heroes

Topic: Fighting armsRoyal Marines Storyline: 1 AGRM

Royal Marines emerged from landing craft on to the beaches of Normandy as they followed in the footsteps of their forebears 80 years ago.

Led ashore by Commanding Officer, Colonel Will Norcott and Regimental Sergeant Major Matt Hill, 50 marines of 47 Commando waded ashore through waist-deep waters on to Gold Beach, where their predecessors faced down German occupiers on D-Day as part of the largest amphibious landings ever undertaken.

The Plymouth-based unit make an annual pilgrimage to the landing grounds and, while the world’s leaders and figureheads, including His Majesty King Charles and US President Joe Biden, gathered at 80th anniversary commemorative events across Normandy, the marines carried out their own unique tributes. 

They laid wreathes on the beaches and held a brief ceremony, before yomping (marching) 15 kilometres to Port-en-Bessin, a crucial port which the unit wrested from the Germans in the days following June 6.

For the Royal Marines – who remain the UK’s specialist in amphibious operations – June 6 1944 and the subsequent campaign in Normandy remain one of the proudest chapters in the Corps’ 360-year history.

More than 17,600 Royal Marines were assigned to D-Day and one in 40 marines – more than 430 men – made the ultimate sacrifice as the allies sought to liberate north-western Europe from Nazi tyranny.

Col Norcott said: “It’s really important to remember what those people did for us 80 years ago.

“We want to commemorate what they did and respect the sacrifices that were made for not only this part of France but Europe.

“It’s also really important we educate our younger people coming through about what happened.”

The modern day 47 Commando are responsible for small boat raiding operations and continually take inspiration from their forebears of the Second World War.

The kit has moved on but the mindset is exactly the same.

“As we take the Commando Force forward, we want to get back to our commando roots and retain the mindset that those people had 80 years ago when commandos first started,” Col Norcott said.

“We’re learning lessons from the past as we develop into the future as the Royal Navy’s special operations fighting force and one of the UK’s very high readiness forces of choice.

“We’re trying to adapt for the future but also keeping that original mindset.”

Members of the public got the opportunity to go onto one of the unit’s modern landing craft and meet the marines, while a little further west from Asnelles, at Arromanches, the unit landed Major Trevor Macey-Lillie, piper with the Scottish gunners, who enacted a time-honoured tradition of playing a Scottish lament.

The tradition recreates the exact moment thousands of British troops disembarked onto French beaches.

Major Macey-Lillie performed Highland Laddie, also known as Hielan' Laddie, in a Landing Craft Utility before being driven up the beach in a DUKW amphibious vehicle.

Leading Hand Kai Misters, a landing craft engineer (stoker) with 47 Commando, has been in Normandy with the unit.

He said: “This kind of thing will happen once in my lifetime. I could have been on deployment in Singapore but I wanted to be here. I wanted to meet some D-Day veterans.

“If I was a stoker 80 years ago, coming towards this beach, we’d have had bullets hitting the front ramp. And you know if that ramp comes down you’ve got to run towards the beach. 

“I wouldn’t have been doing that as an engineer but just seeing and hearing that is unimaginable.

“But it’s made me realise what stokers would have gone through on that day. That’s not spoken about. Perhaps I’ll meet one here today.”