France honours African veterans of Second World War landings

France honours African veterans of Second World War landings

France has staged a military ceremony to remember an event often called “the forgotten D-Day”, the crucial but overshadowed Allied invasion of the French Riviera to push back the Nazis.

The event 75 years on especially honoured the many soldiers from French colonies in Africa who were sent to take part.

French President Emmanuel Macron addressed veterans from several countries at a necropolis in the town of Saint-Raphael.

Emmanuel Macron, right, sits with Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara, centre, and Guinean president Alpha Conde at the ceremony (Eric Gaillard/AP)
Emmanuel Macron, right, sits with Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara, centre, and Guinean president Alpha Conde at the ceremony (Eric Gaillard/AP)

He said: “You gave back our country its freedom and dignity. You gave back our flag its colours and its motto to our people… It’s our duty to preserve it, hand it down, to make it bear fruit against darkness and ignorance.”

Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara and Guinea counterpart Alpha Conde also took part in the ceremony.

Starting on August 15, 1944, hundreds of thousands of primarily US and French troops landed on the Mediterranean coast for Operation Dragoon. It was intended to coincide with the D-Day invasion in Normandy that June but was delayed due to a lack of resources.

Africans made up as much as half the French contingent, indigenous soldiers from what are now some two dozen independent countries.

Mr Macron greets Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara to the ceremony (Eric Gaillard/AP)
Mr Macron greets Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara to the ceremony (Eric Gaillard/AP)

Operation Dragoon enabled the Allies to liberate most of southern France in only four weeks. Soldiers from the Normandy landings met troops from Operation Dragoon on September 12 near Dijon, in the eastern region of Burgundy.

At Thursday’s ceremony, Mr Macron urged French mayors to name streets after African soldiers, acknowledging that for decades they “didn’t have the glory and esteem that their bravery deserved”.

A military choir sang The Song Of The Africans, while fighter jets flew over the necropolis, trailing blue, white and red smoke to represent the French flag.

There is no definitive Allied death toll, but the French Defence Ministry says 1,300 Allied soldiers died in the operation’s first two days.

- Press Association

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