71st Anniversary of D day – A Special Day

With its shuttered châteaus, cobbled streets, Norman churches and cascading blooms tumbling from balconies, being in Normandy France is always a pleasant experience.  But being there on the 6th June, the anniversary of the allied Normandy invasion, puts a whole different prospective on the experience.

For the first time tourist, visiting all of the major commemorative sites such as the cemeteries and invasion beaches moves ones heart and mind into an unexpected emotive state.

When visiting Bayeux cemetery, the biggest British and Commonwealth cemetery,you come to a place of peace and tranquillity, each grave adorned with plants and small shrubs that caress carved names and ranks of the soldiers that lie there.2015-06-05 01.26.42

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Omaha Beach, the American sector of the invasion beaches, its cemetery lying just above the beach where so many lost their lives on the 6th June 1944 and beyond, causes one to gasp at the sheer scale of the rows and rows of crosses that go on as far as the eye can see.

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What a serene sight, these young men laid to rest with the crystal blue of the channel of which they crossed with such bravery and hope for success, glistening in the background.

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But what did it for me, as it always does, was the Normandy Veterans.  Who, despite the Normandy Veterans Association disbanding in 2014, still make this pilgrimage to be here on the anniversary of D day, 6th June 1944, 71 years ago, amidst the ever grateful Normandy civilians who pay homage to these wonderful gentlemen.

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The crowds come from all over the world to witness this spectacle of unassuming old soldiers revel in the glory we all, quite rightly, give them.

And on this great day of remembrance and thanks, the sun shone, the military marched,2015-06-05 20.23.26

the pipers played, the parachutists dropped from the skies all over Normandy.2015-06-05 21.30.35

There were hymns, prayers and heartfelt words from the Mayor of Normandy bringing tears to the eyes of all.

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There was music, jitterbugging, laughter and tears.2015-06-06 03.50.28

Fireworks, applause, handshakes and embraces.

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But the most emotive of all …….

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…… was the promise to do it all again – next year.

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I will be there.

CHAPTER FIFTY NINE – EXCERPT

This was part of a soldiers uniform swept up on Portsmouth beach – cast aside from the shores of France.  Lying here were all these items – personal items, photographs curled and stained. Some of the photographs portrayed just a single person, others, groups, that Irene assumed to be families.  There were letters, never to be read, the ink running as though tears. There were just hundreds of them.  Footwear, wallets, clothing, papers. Letters and possessions from all different nationalities washed up on Pompay beach.  It was all planned – Irene`s life.  But now the evidence of D day was here, the remnants of lives lived – and lost in a moment.

 

 

Violet was just about to fetch the trolley to fill with fresh cups and saucers before the WVS ladies came on the ward with the tea, when Audrey rushed up to her.  Leaning into her she said in a low urgent voice, “Matron wants to see us in her office right away.”

“Why, what have we done?”

Audrey shrugged, pulled a non – plus face and held out the flat of her palms in reply.  But she was already on her way. Violet hurried after her, tucking a few escaped strands of hair into her hat, hoping that her face looked reasonable.

“I have an important job.”  Matron declared to the two girls standing before her.  “One that, I am afraid, seems to elude some people and one that will not suit everybody.  It is a job that will not be an order due to the delicate nature of it, but a job that needs doing nevertheless.”

The two girls exchanged an inquisitive and nervous glance.

Matron placed her clasped hands on her desk seeming to relax a little. Taking a small intake of breath she said, “We are in desperate need of people to help out with the German prisoners who have arrived here.”  Violet sensed the definite shift in the tone of Matron`s voice which was, a little more – subdued.  “They were picked up off the beaches during the first few hours of the invasion.”

It was Audrey who spoke first.  Sideways glancing at Violet she said quietly, “I`m game if you are.”

Violet cleared her throat.  “Well it does say in our Girl Guides oath that we should help everyone,” she said with a tremor in her voice.

But even as the words spilled out, Violet was unsure.  These were Germans for goodness sake, the very ones who may have tried to kill Jack and Gary – who could have killed Jack and Gary and could also have inflicted the terrible wounds on the poor soldiers she had been tending to.  But Matron didn`t wait for any change of mind sensing the falter in Violet`s voice.  “Excellent,”  she announced with gusto.  “Here are the necessary papers to give to the guards on the doors of the Nissan hut where the prisoners are being h…, waiting to be treated,” she quickly corrected.

Both girls dare not look at the other as they in turn took the papers from Matron`s outstretched hands.

But both girls were wondering – what the hell had they done.

 

 

The key was in the lock – Isaac managed it despite his hand dancing to imaginary tunes and a dizziness that held his innocence.  He was in – the silence and the dank starkness of nothingness hitting him.  The thing under his foot – he picked it up, but not without a battle, his boot refusing to give it up until he lashed it out in mid-air.  The brown card was held in his hand before eyes that could not focus.  “Humph!”  He discarded the card, like his life had been.  “Who cares – so you`re safe – who cares – go to hell!”

Isaac stumbled to the chair – falls into a luxury that is cold and untouched.  He is ashamed.  But there is no-one to care.  No-one to hear his shuddering sobs.  How had it come to this.  This loneliness, this emotion so stark and solid it would not leave.  But now he dithered – dithered in an eternity of love that he would not allow and when he did? Spurned – sent packing – left with this nothingness and reddening eyes and a sobbing throat that only allowed –

“Go to hell – the lot of you!”

Lest We Forget – An excerpt from my novel

The sun was high and drifted in-between the dark swollen clouds creating a haze of part sunshine and shadows on the beach. Captain Hammond began to help the stretcher bearers move his patients to the beach station by the shoreline ready for evacuation to England. He walked slowly amongst rows of canvas bags also left there. But these weren`t going home to England. These were left here for transportation to the cemeteries, muting the men that were working hard to clear the beach of the dead. One only had to walk a couple of strides before coming across a canvas bag holding a corpse identified only by a dog-tag hanging loosely on the outside, lives ending in a string of grey that belittled the cause. Shapes encased in these body bags – row after row with feet facing the sea – towards home. They loaded twenty body bags to each truck and then Captain Hammond watched as they lumbered across the sand, truck after truck, nose to tail, a convoy of sorrow on their way to St-Mere-Eglise where they would be laid to rest in a cemetery in the making. Forever immortalised in Glory.