Two days after marking the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, I am sat watching the BBC coverage of the 70th anniversary of the D Day landings from Arromanches, France. I am reminded of the struggle for freedom both events share. The message is clear, we must never take freedom for granted.
My paternal Grandad landed on D Day plus 1. He never spoke to me about it, not sure how much he told my Dad or my Aunty and I am inspired to ask them now so that Grandad’s history won’t be lost. He was a medic and he had the job of sorting out the living from the dead on the beach. After the war he went on to train as a psychiatric nurse and worked at a large institution in Yorkshire. There were many refugees there too and my Dad tells stories of mixing with them; one story is about being told off at school in a German lesson for speaking with an Austrian accent, not knowing that it was because an Austrian Jewish refugee lived and worked at the hospital and helped my Dad with his learning! What those men went though, we shall never know.
The only photo I have of him from the war is this one from when he was stationed in India. He is second on the left, standing.
Random thoughts I have picked up from today’s coverage:
These service men didn’t opt to have a military career, they were called up and that’s what they had to do.
They rarely spoke about it when they came back, how much they must have still endured silently.
Many soldiers buried in Normandy following D Day were only aged 16-20, the average age of today’s 600+ survivors is 89.
The incredible civil engineering feat, the building of the Mulberry Harbour, that meant that the landings were supported and sustained.
The extraordinary personal stories that have been related today are so moving, one man saying he knew his role was that of cannon fodder and as he waded ashore, he waded through dead bodies just floating around him and then through more on the beach itself.
This photo represents the fallen bodies on one of the beaches.
Today no-one glorified war or celebrated it, the day was about remembrance, reconciliation and reflection and passing that message on to the next generation.
For more information follow this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0201qc7
The sense of reconciliation came across strongly in the formal speeches as well as in the personal interviews. Watching the German Prime Minister Angela Merkel take her place and be applauded by the crowd was moving, remembering that the fight for freedom was against Naziism not ordinary Germans who, as one person said today, fought for the same things we did, family and friends.
The sense that there are some occasions when present day issues must be put aside; watching Vladimir Putin was hard, but today he represented the millions of Russians who died in the war not his present politics and it is them we remember not him.
When I was born, it was 18 years since the end of the war in Europe. I was one of the lucky ones at school, I had both my Grandads alive (my maternal Grandad had fought in WWI and was too old to serve in WW2). Many of my generation only had grandmas and I knew I was lucky. And that’s just it, luck. Sometimes no matter how much planning, training and skills are put into practise sometimes it comes down to luck as to who survives and who doesn’t. I think that’s why many veterans feel guilty to have survived, they were no better and no worse than the man stood alongside them.
War and evil still exist in our world and we must be vigilant in protecting our freedom and the freedoms of those who cannot speak for themselves.
Lest we forget.