Work to replace thousands of headstones for British servicemen who died in the Normandy landings has been completed as part of preparations for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
In the last week of April the last of more than 4,000 headstones was re-laid at the Bayeux War Cemetery in Normandy, marking the culmination of months of work ahead of the historic commemorations later this week.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is working to replace thousands of fallen and damaged headstones at its cemeteries across France and beyond, as it marks both the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings and the centenary of the First World War.
Just over 4,000 headstones have been replaced at Bayeux, with more replaced at other sites including nearby Ranville, the first village to be liberated after the landings.
More than 8,000 of the now-famous white stones have been replaced, after years of ageing and weather damage left some of the inscriptions impossible to read. Work at Bayeux started in October and finished in February, with the final headstone laid a few weeks ago.
William Moody, sector supervisor for Normandy for the CWGC, which looks after cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 153 countries, said: "We have changed 8,000 headstones, 4,000 in Bayeux. To us it's an achievement to make sure that the cemetery will be ready for the commemoration of the 70th anniversary.
"That was the key point for us, that was our goal, to make sure that the cemetery would be as beautiful as it can be. We owe it to the veterans."
Describing the magnitude of the task, he said the removal of the headstones had left it looking like a "battlefield", saying: "It was a very big task, we had to remove the headstones, all the plants, cut the roses down. It was phenomenal really."
A special service will be held at Bayeux on June 6 – the anniversary of D-Day – with a huge turnout expected.
Mr Moody said: "It will be particularly emotional this year because for many of the veterans it's the last one, they are 92, 94, 96. It's thanks to them that we are free, them and the people buried here."
The final headstone at Bayeux was carefully laid by gardener caretaker first class Myles Hunt, who followed in his father's footsteps by working for the commission.
The 54-year-old, originally from Bishop Auckland, County Durham, said: "It's a very significant day for me, I felt really proud to be able to do that. My father used to work here in the past and ten years ago I received a commendation for my work at Ranville Cemetery, so ten years later to be able to lay the last headstone here in Bayeux is a privilege.
"The headstones are the main reason why the cemeteries are here obviously and the fact they represent each individual is very significant.
"If we get to a point where we can no longer read what's written on the headstones then we have to change them."
He said: "It's very important that we remember those that have given their lives, not only cases like this that we see in the cemeteries, but for people to give their lives and just be forgotten, it seems really awful."
He said he would be at Bayeux on Friday, making sure the cemetery is "absolutely 100 per cent immaculate" – and added: "We owe that to the veterans, we owe that to all the public in fact. Even when I'm weeding the borders now and again I just put my head up and see a name and although it doesn't mean that much to me, I just try and flash back and think of the devastation."