Left Out of D-Day Events, Queen Elizabeth Is Fuming


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Left Out of D-Day Events, Queen Elizabeth Is Fuming
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Published: May 27, 2009

LONDON — Queen Elizabeth is not amused.
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Times Topics: Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain

Indeed, she is decidedly displeased, angry even, that she was not invited to join President Obama and France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, next week at commemorations of the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, according to reports published in Britain’s mass-circulation tabloid newspapers on Wednesday. Pointedly, Buckingham Palace did not deny the reports.

The queen, who is 83, is the only living head of state who served in uniform during World War II. As Elizabeth Windsor, service number 230873, she volunteered as a subaltern in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, training as a driver and a mechanic. Eventually, she drove military trucks in support roles in England.

While serving, she met the supreme Allied commander for the D-Day landings, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and developed a fondness for him, according to several biographies. This prompted Queen Elizabeth, who was crowned in June 1953, to say in later years that he was the American president with whom she felt most at ease.

But on June 6, when Mr. Obama and Mr. Sarkozy attend commemorations at the iconic locations associated with the American D-Day assault — Utah Beach, the town of Ste.-Mère-Église, where the first United States paratroopers landed, and the American war cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer — the highest-ranking British representative will be Prime Minister Gordon Brown. His main role will be at ceremonies at the town of Arromanches, near the beaches where British troops landed.

How the queen came to be excluded has become entangled in a thicket of diplomatic missteps, or misunderstandings, depending on whether the account is given in London or Paris. The French have said officially that they regard the commemorations in the American sector of the landings as “primarily a Franco-American ceremony,” and that it was up to the British to decide who should represent Britain — in other words, that Mr. Brown was at fault for not seeking an invitation for the queen.

The French have also said the Brown government was slow to accept that the ceremonies merited more than a modest British involvement, since British policy had been to give full-scale government backing only to commemorations at decade-long intervals.

The last of those was the 60th anniversary in 2004, when the queen joined President George W. Bush in the Normandy observances. British veterans’ groups demanded more backing for this year’s ceremonies on the grounds that only a handful of soldiers who fought in Normandy were likely to be alive at the 70th anniversary in 2014.

In Britain, commentators have suggested that Mr. Sarkozy did not want to share the telegenic moment when he hosts Mr. Obama. This was all the more so, the British commentators have said, because the queen’s presence might risk turning the occasion into a celebration of the Anglo-American alliance, whose troops carried out the landings, losing about 37,000 men in the battle for Normandy.

When accounts of the dispute made the headlines of the British tabloids on Wednesday, the diplomatic gloves came off, at least a bit. “Palace fury at D-Day snub to the queen,” roared The Daily Mail, the first time in days that its front-page splash has been on something besides the furor over parliamentarians’ expenses. A Buckingham Palace spokesman declined to comment beyond a terse statement that “no invitation has been issued as yet to any member of the royal family.”

The tabloids quoted anonymous palace officials as saying the Brown government dropped the ball, possibly because of reported strains between Mr. Brown and the queen. Among other issues, the queen is said to have cooled on Mr. Brown because of his habit of appearing late for their weekly audiences. The Daily Mail quoted one “senior palace official” as saying that the palace had made clear to the government that the queen would have liked to have gone to Normandy.

“We have gone through all the normal channels and had conversation after conversation, but received no feedback,” the official said. “It is very frustrating.”

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