For the first time in its 101-year history, the Flame of the French Nation has left France as part of D-Day 80th commemorations as it travels to Arlington, Virginia in the United States via Portsmouth.

The flame arrived in the UK on Tuesday 14 May at a special reception hosted by Portsmouth International Port, the Royal Navy, Royal British Legion and Brittany Ferries.

The Freedom Flame, known as the Flamme de la Liberte, has been burning since 1923 by the tomb of the unknown soldier under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Under the high patronage of Mr Emmanuel Macron, the President of the French Republic, the flame was transported from Cherbourg in convoy with military vehicles and 44 young French people on Brittany Ferries’ ship Galicia. As the ship arrived into Portsmouth Harbour it was accompanied by a flotilla of military and historic vessels, including:

  • Serco tug
  • SMS tug
  • HMS Medusa
  • HSL 102
  • MGB 81
  • X2 Royal Navy P2000
  • French Schooner Etoile

On arrival to Portsmouth International Port the Freedom Flame was greeted by:

  • Historic vehicles x2 jeeps and x2 dodge
  • 20 person guard of honour French and UK personnel
  • Royal Marine Band drummers, Padre, Royal British Legion national standard

Following a short procession to the port terminal a ceremony was held with naval and civic officials, including Royal Navy’s Cdre John Voyce, Portsmouth City Council’s Deputy Lord Mayor Gerald Vernon-Jackson and Helen Patton, General Patton’s granddaughter.

The flame departed the port with the Royal Marine Band Corps of Drums and a traditional Beating the Retreat.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Portsmouth City Council’s Deputy Lord Mayor said:

“For over a hundred years the Freedom Flame has been alight by the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Paris, it is a huge privilege for the city to be the first place to welcome the flame and pay respects with a poignant tribute.

“It is important to learn lessons from the past, the value of countries coming together and for the next generation to play a part remembering momentous events and the impact that remains to this day.”

Commodore John Voyce OBE ADC RN, Naval Base Commander of HMNB Portsmouth, said:

“The flame we welcome tonight is a symbol of liberty for all across the globe and it is poignant that the first time it has come to the UK is on the 80th Anniversary of the liberation of France and mainland Europe that began on D-Day. It is so important that the service and sacrifice made on that day, and all the days our nations have fought oppression, is remembered and honoured.

“On behalf of the UK military, veterans and our families, I welcome the La Flamme de la Liberté, and all that it signifies, to Portsmouth before it journeys across the Atlantic, itself the backdrop to acts of sheer bravery and sacrifice during World War 2, to rest at the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.”

Christophe Mathieu, CEO Brittany Ferries said: “It is a great honour for Brittany Ferries to have carried the Freedom Flame across the Channel, a symbol of great respect and humblest thanks to all brave veterans who crossed the channel nearly 80 years ago.

“Today, those arriving in Normandy by sea are faced with sweeping golden sands, full of happy families making joyful memories. But those very memories are thanks to freedoms we must never take for granted and the sacrifices we must never forget.”

The flame will be on public display at Portsmouth’s D-Day Story on Wednesday 15 May before it departs for Arlington, Virginia, in the United States.

Additional information on the Galicia escorts:

  • HSL 102 – the only survivor of the 100 class in the UK, was launched in 1936 and was one of the very first, fast offshore rescue boats. She was one of the most technologically advanced production craft of the time.1941, she rescued thirty-eight aircrew from the North Sea, including the crews of two German bombers.
  • MCB 81 – Launched on 26 June 1942 and has engaged in significant action, including the Normandy Landings.