Feb 8 2004
Exclusive By Rupert Hamer
BRITISH war veterans are to be banned from this year's Normandy D-Day landings 60th anniversary tribute - because the French claim they could damage the beaches.
Elderly ex-soldiers have been told numbers are going to be limited because of "health and safety issues", including possible harm to the environment and problems with disabled access and public toilets. The snub has enraged up to 3,000 veterans preparing to make the emotional trip to the beaches where they fought the Germans to help liberate France in 1944.
Tory home security spokesman Patrick Mercer, a former army colonel, said: "It's a good job that the French didn't restrict which beaches our men could go on in 1944 because if they had then the French would still be under Nazi rule." Mr Mercer, whose father fought in World War II
, added: "If our boys had been worried about such things as health and safety during D-Day, then France would never have been liberated. Some recognition of this from the French would be nice."
Veterans have been further angered by the insistence that they are only allowed access to the beaches if they wear security passes and photo ID
cards. Survivors without a badge will be denied entry to events, the beaches they liberated and even a British march-past due to be attended by the Queen.
Now officials from the Ministry of Defence have begun their own war of words in a desperate attempt to get the French to change their minds.
Last night a senior MoD insider said: "The French have gone too far and this will be made clear to them. Many veterans are becoming distressed. To be treated like this on the very beaches they liberated is insulting."
Veterans from across Britain have spent months preparing for the emotional pilgrimage to the beaches. Because of their age, for many the trip to Northern France could be the last time they stand on the former battlefields to remember fallen comrades.
They will find out this week how the French have limited numbers and how many places are available.
The event is also dogged by fears of a possible terrorist strike, as the commemorations will be attended by Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
The source said: "The French are asking for frail and elderly veterans to sort out individual security passes for themselves - that is enough to put off old soldiers in their droves.
"And the number allowed at some events and areas of the beaches is going to be restricted for what the French describe as health and safety reasons.
"The feeling in the MoD is that what is being asked of these men by the French is too much and they should be shown a great deal more respect."
Last night an MoD spokesman said there would be discussions with the French to address the issue of security passes and other restrictions. The talks will will take place in the city of Caen - which was bombed flat by the British as they advanced in 1944.
Joe Sibun, 84, who landed on Gold Beach in Normandy on D-Day, said: "I think it is just a case of somebody sitting in an office in France who has decided to be bloody awkward.
"I do not see any good reason for this kind of red tape."
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