In this exclusive series, British Ambassador to Luxembourg, John Marshall reveals his unique viewpoint on, and links to, The Grand Duchy.

Next week events will be held to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings on both sides of the English Channel. On 5 June, the British Prime Minister Theresa May will welcome to Portsmouth the leaders or other senior representatives of the 14 countries that participated in the D-Day landings, including Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. Chancellor Merkel has also been invited.

The reason for Luxembourg’s participation dates back to 10 May 1940 and the invasion of Luxembourg by Nazi Germany. As I mentioned in last week’s column Grand Duchesse Charlotte and her family, as well as four members of the Government managed to escape Luxembourg just in time. The Luxembourg government-in-exile established itself in London, one of eight Governments-in-exile to do so during the war. The UK therefore became a natural destination for young men and women of many nationalities wishing to come together and join the Allied war effort. Luxembourgers were no exception.

© Daniel Jordao

Seven Luxembourgers participated in the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944, with many others, including the then Prince Jean landing in Normandy in the days and weeks that followed. Most of the seven were in Free French units but one was a member of a British Commando Unit. He was Pierre Laux from Kayl. Previously with the French Foreign Legion he reached London, enlisted in the Devonshire Regiment in 1943 and volunteered for the British commandos. Wearing the green beret of No. 4 Commando, he landed in Normandy on 6 June, the first day of the Normandy landings. He later participated in the Allied attack on the Dutch island of Walcheren, which had been fortified by the Nazis to prevent the Allies getting to the deep-water port of Antwerp. He was killed on 8 November 1944 in the Dutch town of Vlissingen (Flushing) and is buried in a Commonwealth War Grave Commission Cemetery in Bergen-op-zoom. He left a young British wife and daughter.

The Brigade Piron, named after its commander Jean-Baptiste Piron was a unit of Belgian and Luxembourg soldiers, formed and trained in the UK, that landed in Normandy in early August 1944. Operating under the command of the British 6th Airborne Division the Brigade Piron was involved in clearing the German army from the channel coast, helping to liberate towns such as Honfleur and Deauville. The Brigade later participated alongside British troops in the liberation of Belgium and the Netherlands and in the British occupation zone in Germany until the Brigade was disbanded in December 1945.

Pierre Laux, Prince Jean and Prince Felix were not the only Luxembourgers to wear a British uniform during the Second World War. Several Luxembourgers served in the RAF including three young men from Bettembourg. Raymond Gruber, Ernest Senté and Jean-Bernard Ney fled Luxembourg in 1941 and after an epic journey that included spells in prison in France and Spain, they reached Gibraltar. From there they went to Britain where they enlisted in the free French squadrons of the RAF. Gruber and Senté both trained to be fighter pilots. On 29th of April 1944, after a training mission, Ernest Senté’s Spitfire crashed at Shoreham-by-Sea airfield, severely wounding him.  He later died of his wounds and was buried at Brookwood cemetery in the UK in the presence of H.R.H. Prince Félix. After the war, his remains were brought back to Bettembourg.

During the Second World War, the Press Section of the Luxembourg Government-in-Exile produced a regular newspaper called the “Luxembourg Bulletin”. The first edition appeared on 10 May 1942, the second anniversary of the German invasion of Luxembourg. The Bulletin continued to be produced during and after the war both in London and New York until at least 1953.

And the brave Luxembourgers that fought in the Second World War were not the last to wear a British uniform. After liberation in 1944, the newly raised Luxembourg army was almost completed kitted out with British equipment including Pattern 40 battledress, Pattern 37 webbing, Pattern 39 leather equipment as well as Mark II helmets and gas masks.

John Marshall has been the British Ambassador to Luxembourg since April 2016. Previously he was British Ambassador to Senegal and non-resident Ambassador to Cabo Verde and Guinea-Bissau. He has also been posted as a diplomat to Japan, Malaysia and Ethiopia.  He is a keen marathon-runner, speaks some Luxembourgish, and enjoys discovering the UK and Luxembourg’s shared history. #LuxUKLinks began as a series of tweets looking at the links between Luxembourg and the UK. These evolved into an exhibition, which toured communes, schools and museums around Luxembourg, and a book.   

© British Embassy