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RBLI beacon lighting ceremony in Aylesford and 50 others across Kent will commemorate the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings

It is 80 years since D-Day - the largest seaborne invasion the world has ever seen.

On Thursday, June 6, the anniversary of “The Longest Day,” the nation will come together to remember the tens of thousands of Allied servicemen who took part in the landings on the beaches at Normandy in order to secure the freedoms that we enjoy today.

Countries around the world will be remembering D-Day
Countries around the world will be remembering D-Day

At 9.15pm precisely, hundreds of beacons will be lit across the UK, with more in France, Canada, the USA and other Allied counties.

One of them will be in the Garden of Honour, at the Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI) site in Aylesford, to which the public are warmly invited.

The commemoration actually starts at 6.30pm.

At 8pm, one of the RBLI’s resident army veterans, Peter Topley, will read the Proclamation.

He will be followed by Darren Riley, a former member of The Light Infantry, who will read In Silent Thought, a poem he has written himself especially for the ceremony.

Peter Topley will read the proclamation. Photo Graham Baker Photography
Peter Topley will read the proclamation. Photo Graham Baker Photography
Darren Riley will read his own poem
Darren Riley will read his own poem

In it, he draws on his own active service experience to imagine how the troops would have felt on D-Day as they ran from the landing craft and up the beaches.

At 9.10pm, Pipe Major Chic Mackie will play Highland Laddie the tune played by Piper William Millin in 1944 as he disembarked from the landing craft to set foot on Sword Beach.

The beacon will be lit by Pete Gower, another resident at the RBLI village and a former member of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, who will be thinking of his own father, Arthur Gower, who landed with the Sussex Regiment on D-day and forever carried the scars for the rest of his life.

Mr Gower said: “My father had scars from barbed wire on his body, and I kept on at him to tell me how he got them.

“For years, he wouldn’t, but eventually he did.”

Piper Major Chic Mackie
Piper Major Chic Mackie
RBLI veteran Pete Gower will light the beacon
RBLI veteran Pete Gower will light the beacon

“He said how horrible it was in the landing craft as the guys around him were throwing up.

“It was a mess, and all around they could hear the guns going off.

“The frontal ramp lowered onto Sword Beach, and before they got halfway down, men were dropping as bullets showered them. As he ran, he saw so many men just dropping all around him.

“He said: ‘All you had to do was get on that beach and get off it to cover as quickly as possible.

“‘It didn’t last that long, really, but it seemed like a lifetime.’”

“My Dad said; ‘There was barbed wire and the guys couldn’t get over it, but were just dropping where they stood, so I put myself over the barbed wire, so they could use me as a bridge to get across.’”

Mr Gower said: “I think of my Dad every day, but lighting the beacon will be especially poignant.”

Operation Overlord, D-Day, saw over 5,000 ships and landing craft set down more than 150,000 troops on five Normandy beaches.

It was the start of the liberation of Europe and spelt the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime.

There are nearly 50 other locations across Kent where the public can attend beacon-lighting celebrations.

Onshore at Gold Beach
Onshore at Gold Beach

In Folkestone, a ceremony organised by the town council will be held on the Bandstand at The Leas, beginning at 7.30pm with choirs and readings and culminating with the beacon lighting at 9.15pm.

Dover Town Council’s event will be a celebration as well as a commemoration.

Starting at 6pm at the Marina Curve on the Seafront, there will be music from the era provided by D-Day Dawn, The Lindyhoppers, Johnny Victory and the Swingtime Sweethearts, as well as more traditional music in the form of a bagpipe recital.

Those unable to attend can view the beacon lighting via a live video link on the night.

Ashford Borough Council is spreading out its commemorations across the whole day beginning with a flag-raising ceremony at the Civic Centre at 9am. Then at 11am there will be a commemorative service in the Memorial Gardens, including the installation of a floral spitfire, followed by the beacon lighting at 9.15pm in the Civic Park.

Tenterden will also combine celebration with commemoration, with an event starting at 8.30pm in the recreation ground. There will be music from the Heart of Kent Show Choir and from Ruby Sisterz before the ceremonial part of the day starts at 9.15pm.

Hollingbourne Parish Council near Maidstone invites the public to its beacon-lighting ceremony on the Millennium Green from 8pm, while Marden Parish Council holds a similar event at Southons Field.

Many communities are holding their own service
Many communities are holding their own service

Sevenoaks Town Council has noticed that June 6 coincides with National Fish and Chip Day and is inviting its residents to bring their own fish and chips along to The Vine Gardens, from 7.30pm onwards, where there will be music from the 1940s played by the Jean Bentley Orchestra.

At 9pm, they will begin the official ceremony, culminating in the beacon lighting at 9.15 at the same time as the rest of the country.

Others organising events across the county include:

Addington Parish Council

Ash-cum-Ridley Parish Council

Bethersden Parish Council

Many ceremonies will include a piper. Picture: Keith Heppell.
Many ceremonies will include a piper. Picture: Keith Heppell.

Bidborough Parish Council

Biddenden Parish Council

Birchington Parish Council

Brenchley and Matfield Parish Council

Canterbury City Council

Capel-le-Ferne Parish Council at the Battle of Britain Memorial Site

Charing Heath Parish Council

Chart Sutton, Sutton Valence and East Sutton

Chevening Parish Council

Crockenhill Parish Council

Cuxton Parish Council

Dover District Council

Eastchurch Parish Council

Edenbridge Town Council

Egerton Parish Council

Gravesham Borough Council

Grove and Stodmarsh Parish Council

Hernhill Parish Council

High Halden Parish Council

High Halden Parish Council

Horton Kirby and South Darenth Parish Council

Ickham and Well Parish Council

Iwade Parish Council

Kings Hill Parish Council

Kingsnorth Parish Council

Leeds Village Community Events

Lower Halstow Parish Council

Manston Parish Council

Mereworth Parish Council

Newchurch village

Ospringe Parish Council

Queenborough Town Council

Sandwich Town Council

Selling Parish Council

Swanley Town Council

Tunstall Village Memorial Hall

Upchurch Parish Council

Westwell Parish Council

Whitstable, Herne Bay, Canterbury Lions Club

Wouldham Parish Council

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