A County Durham man has followed in his father’s footsteps as work to replace thousands of headstones for British servicemen who died in the Normandy landings is completed in time for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
The last of more than 4,000 headstones has been re-laid at the Bayeux War Cemetery in Normandy, marking the culmination of months of work ahead of the historic commemorations in June.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is working to replace thousands of fallen and damaged headstones at its cemeteries across France and beyond, as it marks both the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings, and the centenary of the First World War.
The final headstone at Bayeux was carefully laid by Gardener Caretaker First Class Myles Hunt, who followed in his father’s footsteps by working for the commission.
The 54-year-old, originally from Bishop Auckland, County Durham, said: “It’s a very significant day for me, I felt really proud to be able to do that.
“My father used to work here in the past and 10 years ago I received a commendation for my work at Ranville Cemetery, so 10 years later to be able to lay the last headstone here in Bayeux is a privilege.
“The headstones are the main reason why the cemeteries are here obviously and the fact they they represent each individual is very significant. If we get to a point where we can no longer read what’s written on the headstones then we have to change them.”
He added: “It’s very important that we remember those that have given their lives, not only cases like this that we see in the cemeteries, but for people to give their lives and just be forgotten, it seems really awful.”
He said he would be at Bayeux on June 6, making sure the cemetery is “absolutely 100% immaculate”: “We owe that to the veterans, we owe that to all the public in fact.
“Even when I’m weeding the borders now and again I just put my head up and see a name and although it doesn’t mean that much to me, I just try and flash back and think of the devastation it caused to the families, to their close ones - this is going to be their 70th anniversary.”
Just over 4,000 headstones have been replaced at Bayeux, with more replaced at other sites including nearby Ranville, the first village to be liberated after the landings.
More than 8,000 of the now-famous white stones have been replaced, after years of ageng and weather damage left some of the inscriptions impossible to read.
Work at Bayeux started in October and finished in February, with the final headstone laid last week.
William Moody, sector supervisor for Normandy for the CWGC, which looks after cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 153 countries worldwide, said: “We have changed 8,000 headstones, 4,000 in Bayeux. To us it’s an achievement to make sure that the cemetery will be ready for the commemoration of the 70th anniversary.
“That was the key point for us, that was our goal, to make sure that the cemetery would be as beautiful as it can be. We owe it to the veterans.”