Speech by Prime Minister Rutte at ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day

Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands held this speech in Arromanches les bains in France.

Thank you, Mayor Bastide.
I can imagine that you must be very proud to be the mayor of Arromanches.
And rightly so.

Arromanches shows what a key role a small town can play.
An historic role, in your case. 
One that began on that momentous day: the sixth of June 1944.

That’s the reason we’re here.
To commemorate what happened here.
To reflect on the courage of many thousands of soldiers.
And the incredible sacrifice that so many of them made.
To recognise the essential role that this small town played in that enormous war.
Here, the tide of the Second World War finally turned in favour of the liberation of Europe.
Including the Netherlands.

This was made possible, above all, by the troops who reached the Normandy coast 80 years ago.
As Rudi Hemmes, a member of the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade, said: 
‘In those first two months it was the Brits, the Canadians and the Americans who did all – and I do mean all – the hard work.’
And he was absolutely right.

The success of any major operation depends on countless smaller operations. 

And yet, as every military strategist knows, the success of any major operation depends on countless smaller operations. 
It depends on all the wheels in the machine, turning at just the right moment.

On the sixth of June 1944, the Netherlands supplied some of those.
Boats, aircraft and crews to protect the Allied landing craft.
They fought alongside their comrades and transported materiel.
They even sank an old navy cruiser, creating a breakwater to protect the artificial harbour off the coast at Arromanches.

Two months after the landing, it was also here in Arromanches that the Princess Irene Brigade came ashore, in an area known as Hellfire Corner. 
A name that speaks volumes. 
Platoon commander Ton Herbrink described the exchange he had with a British major upon landing. Herbrink said:

When I took over command of the area, the major asked me, “How many men are you going to put in?”
“Thirty,” I said.
“May God help you, my boy,” he replied.

Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t need to tell you what happened in the months after that.
How intense the fighting was.
How many soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice.
And how this hard-won victory eventually gave us a free Europe.
You all know your history.

Today, as we commemorate that history, let us also reflect on what we can learn from what happened here.
By zooming out from all those amazing individual stories, to the bigger story they created together: a story of peace, freedom and security.
That was only possible because everyone was willing to do what they could.

D-Day is a symbol of what’s possible when we truly join forces.
Of what’s possible if we stand up together for the things we value most.

For me, D-Day is a symbol of what’s possible when we truly join forces.
Of what’s possible if we stand up together for the things we value most.
I wish I could say that what we learned here in Arromanches can now be consigned to the history books.
But unfortunately, we all know that’s not the case.
Since the end of the Second World War, Dutch military personnel have served in international peace and security missions all over the world.
They’ve risked their lives to defend the freedom of others.

I’m proud that some of you are here with us today. 
You have all received the Dutch medal of honour for wounded military personnel.
Most people can’t even imagine your bravery, let alone hope to equal it.

We must work together to achieve peace.

Unfortunately, right now the lessons of Arromanches are more relevant than ever.
Because everything our troops fought for then, is once again at stake in Europe.
Now, we are being called on once again.
And once again, we must work together to achieve peace.

For me, that is the story of Europe.
A story whose centre of gravity can be found here, in the town of Arromanches.
That’s why it’s so important that we reflect on what happened here 80 years ago.
To remember.
To honour.
But also to learn.

To learn that the battle for peace, freedom and security is never won.
That we must always be alert to what can happen if we let down our guard.
And above all, that anyone who fights on the side of good, can be sure that others will join their struggle.
That was true then. 
And it’s still true today.

Allow me to say a few words in Dutch to the young men and women serving in the Dutch military today, and present here.

Mannen en vrouwen, juist nu, tachtig jaar na het begin van de bevrijding van Europa, juist nu er aan de grenzen van ons continent weer gevochten wordt, hebben jullie besloten dienst te nemen in de Nederlandse krijgsmacht om onze vrijheid te verdedigen. 
En die van onze bondgenoten. 
Nederland is jullie daar dankbaar voor.

Thank you.