Saturday, 7 June 2014

D-Day

I've been watching a fair bit of television over the past couple of days, quite often with tears rolling down my face. The programme on Thursday evening, "If I don't come home: letters from D-Day" featured the stories of four Allied solders who had written to their families in the clear knowledge that they may never see them again. Two of the men survived and, heartbreakingly, two did not. One of the latter was a young Canadian writing to his widowed mother and I cannot remain dry-eyed when I think of it now.
Much of yesterday's coverage of  the commemoration of the Normandy landings was very moving. I'm aware how incredibly fortunate I was to have enjoyed the company of my adored father over a long and happy life. When he was demobbed from the army and returned home he found his young daughter, as he described me, "running wild." His discipline was strict. Who was this stranger who had come to live in our house and was bossing me about? Our characters were very similar and for a while he had another battle on his hands!
At school in the late 'forties some of the pupils had no father and teachers had lost husbands and fianc├ęs. The country was pretty much on it's knees, but my memory is of everyone being very happy. Family gatherings and get-togethers with friends, group picnics or parties with silly games, these occasions were always full of laughter. I realise now that the adults were euphoric just to be alive.

In this photo I'm standing with my father on the old pack-horse bridge in Thornthwaite, Yorkshire, where we had a small weekend cottage. My long hair has been tightly plaited and a Fair isle beret, a present from my Scottish relatives, is crammed down on my head. I've just about out-grown that coat, but in post-war Britain there was still rationing and you hung onto things for as long as you could! And you can tell from my stance that I was a bit of a madam!

The Bell Tent

When war was over
and Dad was free
to come back home and live with me
he bought a bell tent from the army.
Other people thought him barmy.
Huge and dark the space within,
where we could play and make a din,
run rings around the central pole,
emerge to sunlight like a mole
from dark brown canvas, flattened grass,
odour sweet as memory has.
No thoughts from us of men at war,
boots to the pole, heads to the door.

On holidays away we went,
dogs, parents, children in the tent.
My mother would not sleep inside
unless the door was opened wide,
and several times we'd start the day
with a cow's face or donkey's bray.
We'd climb up hills and gaze around,
our home a little mole-hill mound
beneath, and way up in the sky
we saw a golden eagle fly.
No thoughts from us of those poor men
who'd never see this land again.

11 comments:

  1. I love this! What a wonderful story and a wonderful picture! i watched so much of the coverage yesterday - the international and then canadian coverage. there is always so much american coverage of D-Day but the canadians got the furthest inland on the first day, despite heavy casualties and we are always so proud of them! My own grandfather enlisted at age 40 and was stationed in southern England throughout the war - a squadron leader in the royal air force, who kitted out the bombers, Those were amazing men and whenever I feel whiny, I am reminded of them and what they were willing to go through for all of us! And didn't the QUeen look good yesterday? And phlip chuckled when they showed her working on the trucks as a young pretty girl!

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    1. One of my mother's Canadian cousins came to visit us during the 2nd World War. He was wearing his smart airforce uniform and I was eating my porridge at the time. I put my spoon down in it rather energetically - you can guess where the porridge landed!
      My emotions about those men and that time remain very strong.

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  2. We made the good move to join a British-based tour of Normandy in 2009. We were the only "Yanks" along and felt so welcomed by the other tour participants. This was the first I realized the Americans and British were truly "comrades in arms" (I was only a babe-in-arms in '44) and spending those days together helped me appreciate how much so many gave for our freedom today.

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    1. No surprise that as 'Yanks' you were welcomed - where would we all have been without you.

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  3. What a moving story, Rosemary. War affects us all.

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    1. The saddest thing is that wars continue.

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  4. What a moving story! I watched the news, Merkel, Putin, Hollande, the Queen, Obama. D-Day seems like an event of another world but then there are my parents, who spent many hours over a long period in air-raid shelters in Vienna. You can imagine, they prefer not to talk about those times. It takes more than 2 generations.

    I find this photo also very moving:
    http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2014-06/fs-d-day-feier-bilder-2/seite-9
    (it's a whole gallery, including your Queen!)

    The Queen is amazing!

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    1. Not talking about it is a common theme. My relatives only laughed and told funny stories of this time, I never heard them talk about the things that they never wished to have seen or have done. I know a friend who only learnt of his father's impressive war record when reading the obituaries after his death.

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  5. Thank you for these memories. Fascinating to me because, as a post-war baby, child of the '50s, just remembering ration books and surrounded by bomb-sites in Dover, an outstanding memory is that nobody spoke about the war. No-one complained or mentioned their experiences and perhaps your phrase "adults were euphoric just to be alive" explains this.

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    1. I think that by the '50's everyone was intent on leaving it all behind them and getting on with life. I also remember the bomb sites and shored-up buildings, I just thought that was how towns and cities looked!

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