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.

To Commemorate the 70th Anniversary of D-day – Excerpt From My Novel

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To come upon a tank, a sentiment of war, silhouetting shapes in smoking metal, once a driver,gunner,husband, father, brother or son. Now all that is left of the residue of life are ID discs that would be shipped home with no possessions – possessions lingering in the skeletal pockets of death, just memories of happy faces and the embrace of final hugs and promises of return. New babies cradled and children holding onto trouser legs, misty eyes upward turned to search their father`s face as they kissed mum goodbye entrenched in a crowded platform with whistles – and steam – and tears.
Farewell wasn`t meant to be eternal and no-one prepared them for the finality of it.

omaha beach

Gary was hardened to war, after four years he had to be. But thinking of ma, as they buried them, he hoped she wouldn`t have to carry the burden of a lost child. For he knew, his tears for once defying his hard-edged heart, his ma would not harbour the weight of it.

5th June 1944 70th Anniversary Dday – 1 day to H hour – Excerpt from my novel.

The clock read 3.30 am. the morning of the 5th June and General Eisenhower was already awake as he had been for most of the night. Placing the clock back on the table beside his bunk, he sighed heavily, not through tiredness, though he was tired enough, but his exasperation was because of the rain still pounding the roof of his trailer.  He was forty-five minutes from having to make the biggest decision of the war – maybe his life – and the weather was sure not going to help that decision.  Having already preliminarily ordered the fleet to converge to Normandy, all it would take now was his final order and the fleet would be unstoppable.

The lights up at Southwick House glared through the darkness, horizontal rain beating against shuttered windows.  The wind, furious and ever fervent shook the very foundations. There was no small talk, no pleasantries exchanged.  General Eisenhower resumed the meeting with the formality and urgency required.  The next fifteen minutes would decide the fate of hundreds and thousands of men and over two years of planning.

“Well John, what do you have for us?” General Eisenhower asked.

“Well – I’ve got good news.” John Stagg had just taken the phone call that had given him the final weather report.  “There is no substantial change to my forecast from last night General.”  John was smiling.  “The storm will break before dawn.  The 6th of June will be a fine day and possibly the 7th as well.”  Not one to wallow in praise, however, after all John had endured these past forty-eight hours, some around this table, he sensed, maybe not trusting his report, he added, “I would just like to add gentlemen,” his eyes whipped past each Commander. “if we had gone on the 5th as planned, the landings would have been a complete disaster.”  Not wanting to take the praise for this, after all it had not been his decision to postpone the landings, but General Eisenhower`s, turning to the General John told him, “You certainly without a doubt sir, took the right decision to postpone.”

“Could you perhaps enlighten us more of what the actual weather report stated John?”  General Eisenhower asked.

“The approaching front is likely to dominate until late morning and probably late afternoon of the 6th.  Cloud cover will be 3/10ths or less – cloud base 700 to 1000 metres – wind force at the landing coast 4 to 5 – but could be 3 – visibility good.”

General Eisenhower, silent and alone in his deliberation had to weigh up this new situation.  If John Stagg was wrong and the weather did not clear, at best the Allied Expeditionary Force would be landing sea sick men without adequate air cover and naval bombardment. The landings would prove disastrous, troops unable to land in gale swept seas.

No-one spoke.  The fire crackled, the clock ticked.  The Supreme Commander was a man who believed in his hunches.  All he had before him were the facts, a window of opportunity miraculously given him – and his gut feeling.  Time had run out.  One man and one man alone had to make the final decision; it was why he had been given the job – a decision that would change millions of lives forever.

After that final pause needed to assure himself that all necessary due deliberations had been taken, he looked up, he smiled and he uttered the words.  It was a soft announcement.  Grossly underrated and one that would mark the history books forever.

“OK – let`s go!”

 

The invasion was now unstoppable.  The library had only taken a few moments to clear.  After a thunderous cheer, the Commanders dashed to take up their command posts. Admiral Ramsey sent out the Order of the Day to every officer in his fleet.

It is our privilege to take part in the greatest amphibious operation in history – the hopes and prayers of the free world and of the enslaved people of Europe will be with us and we cannot fail them.  I count on every man to do his utmost to ensure the success of this great enterprise.  Good luck to you all – and God speed.

Thus the scene was set:

Operation Overlord had never been one man’s idea, one man`s planning.  A great machinery of minds had put the plan into place.  Every plausible option, every plan, every assault was studied for faults, improbabilities and impossibilities.  With a little bit of luck, good weather and a momentous amount of bravery, there was every chance of success.

Dday the 6th June – would hopefully lead Europe to victory and end the five year war.

 

On the Normandy coastline, nothing was untoward.  At the little coastal resort of Riva Bella near Ouistreham, Heinrich sat behind his twin mounted machine gun in the fortified pill box overlooking the beach.  He was writing a letter to his wife:

It is with a troubled soul I write to you my dear.  How are you and the children? I need to ask you this first before my heart pours out its grief to you.  I am here looking over the channel.  The grey-grey channel that holds inconceivable mysteries.  Beyond that slim stretch of water an enemy waits to devour us.  Just this slip of water separates hell and eternity.  My comrades are confident we will throw the enemy back into the sea.  I hope we do, but my heart is heavy.  Who are the enemy I ask – the allies or us?  I do not wish to burden you with these woes, but if I should never see you again, I want you to know how much I was thinking of you in these last hours.

 My Kommanders say the allies will not come yet.  But there is something wrong.  My comrades swim in the cold water and laugh at the shore`s edge.  As they eat strawberries, juice running as blood down their chins, I ask, why are the fishing boats that are usually up and down the coast, despite the bad weather, now remaining in solitude in the harbour?  The sure swell of water slumbers in the certitude of its own survival – albeit that it will turn red.  The sea is so empty – even the seagulls have taken to hiding in the crevices to wait whilst man annihilates and then they will swoop to claim their pickings.  They have an instinct we mere mortals do not comprehend.  Why do we not heed God’s warning?

Please forgive me for sounding so unhappy my dear wife, but I all I want is to be with you away from this place full of death that will gore out mens souls.  The place is littered with instruments of demise of which no flesh will survive.  How can this place so pretty with its villas and brightly painted houses, a holiday resort that beckons happy faces, distort itself to such madness and play host to such barbarism?

I pray my sweet girl that God will forgive all our souls for this untimely and unkempt theatre of war we present to him in the name of his sons.  I pray that God will also forgive me for the men I have to kill in the name of the Fatherland and that if my death is imminent, then let it be ungracious to God`s forgiveness – but also swift in its grace.

I do love you.

Heinrich

 

He was almost amongst them, his grin as big as his heart.  “How you doin` boys?”

Steel helmets were pulled off, rows of white teeth lit up blackened faces, shoulders shook with hard handshakes and the news had spread that he was here.  The mutterings became shouts, shouts became cheers, cheers became whistles, whistles became handclaps.  The noise had all the troops on the airfields attention. The groups of paratroopers on the airfield merged into one huge crowd – General Eisenhower disappearing amongst them.  He was visiting the base of the 101st Airborne Division at Newbury near Berkshire.  “Everything else can wait,” he had said earlier that morning.  “I want to see the boys of the 101st.”

General Eisenhower spoke to each man as he shook their hand. It was almost adoration, such respect that the Supreme Commander had taken the time to come here.  General Eisenhower laughed with them, shook hundreds of hands and spoke quietly to some, joked with others but conversed with all he met.  Amidst all of this cheery exchange, the General also gave last minute instructions. “There is a need to crush our Nazi enemy if we are to survive and to defeat him, rendering him incapable of rising up and doing it again.  It is therefore necessary to steel ourselves for this task.”

The boys of the 101st elated by General Eisenhower’s visit, a great boost to morale, continued with their preparations, it wasn’t long before take off.

Light was beginning to fade.  Lines of paratroopers began to form a queue before their assigned planes.  Emotional last talks were given then the first man was hauled up the steps, their loads heavy on their backs.

A huge disharmony of sound came from the airfield as each C-47, in its turn, lurched onto the taxi-strip.  As the first of the planes headed the runway the pilots locked brakes, ran the engines until they screamed.  Then each plane, at ten minute intervals started down the runway gathering speed.  The nose tipped upwards, wheels leaving the floor, then up – up – so huge – so cumbersome – so beautiful – were airborne.  One – than another – and another, direction blinker signals winking, three invasion stripes marking their mission.  The glider planes, the spider thin cables snaking frantically until the C-47 towing it took its weight, effortlessly lifting it to the sky.  Circling – circling.  How many? So many – this vast force – this great might flying for freedom – for the love of their country.

General Eisenhower, staff officers, British soldiers manning anti-tank guns, clerical workers – all outside – work abandoned, all eyes turned upwards, all silent, all in awe.  The fading light of the day cast shadows from the airborne monster planes across the runway and the queues of planes still waiting to taxi. The whole scene was a cascade of armoury that defied imagination.

The first in formation circled in farewell, banked and tailed off.  Brave young men, some never to return.  Heading for Normandy.

Thirteen thousand British and American paratroopers from airfields all across England had taken to the skies heading for Normandy on this night – 5th June 1944

In the morning – the morning of the 6th June – one hundred and seventy five thousand vessels, of which four thousand were ships and landing crafts engaged in the assault and follow up stages.

One thousand naval vessels to protect the fleet and to blast the enemy ashore.  Seven hundred and thirty six ancillary craft.  Eight hundred and sixty four merchant supply ships

Eleven thousand five hundred aircraft – of which – over three thousand four hundred heavy bombers, nine hundred and thirty medium bombers, three thousand eight hundred fighters to protect air and sea and provide ground support to the landing forces. One thousand and sixty transport for massive airlift and three parachute divisions.  Three thousand five hundred gliders carried more troops.  Five hundred reconnaissance aircraft watching every movement of land, one thousand planes from coastal command seeking out the enemy out at sea.

And almost two hundred thousand – very brave men.

In a few hours

It is now Dday – 6th June 1944

June 4th 1944 – 70th Anniversary of Dday – 1 day to H hour – Excerpt from my novel.

Out in the Atlantic, weighty slate grey clouds banished the onset of dawn fighting for dominance over the impending sunrise. The ships of the Western Naval Task Force led by Rear Admiral A G Kirk and carrying the American infantry, rounded Lands End forging towards the Isle of Wight and `Piccadilly Circus` – the code-named assembly area.  The Eastern Task Force led by Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian, carried troops covering the British sector, would arrive in the assembly area later that morning.  The rest of the flotilla carrying the second wave of the invasion, were sitting just off the south coast aboard their ships and landing crafts.  The task force would rendezvous and then wait – for General Eisenhower`s final decision to go.

 

“Gentlemen the fears my colleagues and I had yesterday have been confirmed.”  John Stagg delivered his bleak statement with a soft scottish accent that hinted at sentiment.

The SHAEF Commanders were again gathered in the library of Southwick House – the clock reading 4.14 am on the morning of the 4th June – almost twenty-four hours before the planned date of the invasion.

General Eisenhower, grim faced and weary from lack of sleep asked John, “And the forecast for the next few days?”

John`s answer was given with a slightly risen pitch of hope.  “There is a benign high detected between the low pressure areas forming over Iceland.”  But then the hope was dashed.  “But I am disturbed by the longer forecast of high winds and low disability.  However, at this stage, I cannot differentiate one day from another during the invasion period.”

“And the sea condition?”  Admiral Ramsey asked.

“The sea condition will be slightly better than at first anticipated, but according to the Dunstable forecast, there is still low cloud forecast with a 1000 foot ceiling and level 4 to 5 force winds.”

“You were optimistic yesterday John.”  General Eisenhower reminded him.  “Is there just a chance that you might be a bit more optimistic about the forecast for tomorrow?”

John Stagg gave a slight shake of his head and dropped his gaze.  “The balance has gone too far to the other side for it to swingback overnight tonight.”  His negativity cast the hearts of all seated in the library – to their boots.

For days – weeks, General Eisenhower had deliberated and agonized over the weather forecast – each forecast over the last few days worse than the other – no respite.  With the amphibious landings due to take place between 0600 hours and 0800 hours on the 5th – tomorrow – the final decision to attack had to be made at least twenty-four hours prior to this.  He needed to act decisively.

The room fell silent. Not a man in the room would have swapped places with the General.  General Eisenhower`s burden was heavy.  Millions of lives rested upon his decision.  Operation Overlord was already going in with a very slim margin of ground superiority.  If he postponed until the 19th June – the next date of correct moon and tide conditions – he would have to call the whole fleet back. which would seriously increase a major security leak – never mind the whole nightmare of unloading troops and equipment.   General Eisenhower pulled himself straight.  He had no choice.  “To cover a last minute possible improvement,” he informed all round the table, ” the remaining assault forces in port will embark and  we will convene again here at 4.15 am tomorrow.”  His next statement was the one that had haunted him for weeks, one that he hoped with all his heart he would be able to retract in twenty-four hours time – or the whole operation, planned meticulously for the past two years would be doomed to failure.  The invasion is hereby postponed – for twenty-four hours.”

 

Most of the convoy of ships, landing crafts and battleships were already positioned at Area Z codenamed `Piccadilly Circus` the rendezvous point just off the Isle of Wight.  The rest were on their way or still in the ports waiting to sail.  The incessant drizzle had turned to heavy rain.  Waves were beginning to roll, shunting, tossing men who, had the stomach to fight, but not the stomach to thwart the sea.  Most of the day’s rations had already ended up in sick bags, which didn `t take long to fill.  Then it was helmets, fire buckets, the deck or anything else that could act as a receptacle for vomit.  Cramped, wet, tired and feeling very ill, they waited.

The fleet received a signal.  But it was not the anticipate signal, the one that would signal to the fleet to sail for Normandy.

It was another pre-arranged signal – the signal to postpone – for twenty-four hours.

 

On the Normandy coast, except for the prevailing winds – all was quiet.  Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel had driven to Paris to buy a birthday present for his wife’s 50th birthday.  The forty-mile journey between Paris and the great rivers estuary – had proven an arduous one; attacks by allied bombers on the small island that linked the Seine to Paris had destroyed most of the bridges and many of the towns.  Whilst in Paris, Erwin decided to meet with Feldmarschall Karl Rudolf Gerd Von Rundstedt at his headquarters at St-Germain-en Laye.

“The allies will need at least four consecutive days of good weather to be able to mount the invasion, “Feldmarschall Von Rundstedt declared to Erwin, his statement delivered with a certain measure of decorum that masked some distaste for the man before him.  Although both Commanders had firm beliefs and strategies, Von Rundstedt secretly harboured resentment for the younger Feldmarschall Rommel who Hitler had chosen to mastermind the Atlantic Wall.  Nevertheless, Erwin did not buckle under Von Rundstedt`s obvious antagonism and continued to follow his own instincts and experience.  “I agree of course.  I have checked the weather reports,”  Erwin informed Von Rundstedt.  “Over the next few days, the reports indicate increasing cloud, high winds and rain.  The tides in the strait of Dover will not be suitable for an invasion until mid June.”

 

Jack retched yet again, this time he filled his helmet and then with deep gasps, he sucked in fresh air, tipped his helmet and emptied it of vomit over the side of the ship.  Sinking onto the deck, he sort refuge from the raging storm under a section of tarpaulin that covered a line of wagons. He ran a hand over his face, saliva filling his mouth indicating another bout of nausea.  The Empire Battleaxe lilted and dove as the twenty-foot waves tossed her.  She rode the waves as she would a rollercoaster, although there were no shouts of glee, just the sound of retching from sodden troops.  Soldiers on the rain – lashed decks glumly lined the rails of the ship trying to gain a foothold on the surface that would not yield to them.  After the news of the postponement, the fleet had turned back from their rendezvous point and were sitting just off of Portsmouth Harbour.  Those ships and landing crafts that had not already sailed before the postponement was announced, were still sitting in the harbour, the troops stuck on the boats not allowed to leave the vessels. Some one hundred and seventy five thousand men were waiting to cross the channel and the twenty-four hour `reprieve` allowed demons within their minds to cause havoc upon already doubtful territory.  Demons that taunted death – fear.  Demons that undermined positivity and strength of mind.  Holed up for thirty-six hours, they waited in anticipation of some glimmer of hope.  The weather had deteriorated rapidly and many soldiers were plagued with sea-sickness.  With open decks and hardly any shelter men on board landing crafts were wet, cold, sick and miserable.  There was no respite either for men packed together below the deck of the Empire Battleaxe.  For many, the contents of the meal issued to them earlier by the navy crew had made an unwelcome entry back into confinement of the rest areas.  Everywhere stank of vomit.  Those who were not vomiting with sea-sickness, vomited because of the stench of someone who had. Rain lashed, gales blew and the ship danced to the tune.  Feeling so ill, no-one cared anymore why they were there.  No-one cared about the invasion – the Germans – or about being killed.

“I hope the Germans put a bullet straight through my head,” moaned Mike as he slid down next to Jack.  “Shit – I feel bad.”

Jack tried to manage a smile, but it would not develop, he didn’t try to force one either in case any involuntary slight movement, facial or bodily, would set off his tumultuous stomach.  He hadn`t been sick for a full five minutes – and that was a miracle. What would be more a miracle – is that there might be anything left in his stomach to recycle.

 

“Our Father who art in heaven – Hallowed be thy name…”

Gary stood with his comrades, head bowed as the chaplain took the service.  Keeping his head down, he flicked his eyes upwards scanning the hundreds of soldiers who had gathered in the mess room.   Tables were pushed back against the wall out of bounds because of the continuous rolling of the craft.  Some men were muttering their own prayers holding rosaries. Others had their eyes tightly closed and others stared blankly in front of them, lost in their own thoughts.  For Gary, his thoughts were of his family, his ma, his dad and his baby brother Jack who would be, in just a few hours time, experiencing his first combat duty.  Gary hoped Jack would not be too scared.  He was a good lad, a good brother and a good son.  A better son, he knew, than he had been.

The chaplain, clutching his service bible, his army chaplains stole draped around his shoulders, made a sign of the cross and all said, “Amen,” in unison.  The group began to disband, some however stayed with the chaplain, probably never having been to church in their lives, now wanting to be blessed, wanting to take God on their shoulders to the battlefield.  Gary had seen it before when he had landed in Sicily and Italy; everyone had wanted God on their shoulder.  Gary did not stay but made his way back up to the deck of the Arquebus despite the storm.  They had only just set sail so were one of the lucky ships who had not been kept at sea since June 3rd, as had many.  So seasickness for them had not, as of yet, become a problem.  Gary had chosen to stay with his Bren Carrier to try to catch some sleep.  Although the deck was packed with men, they were not so entombed as the men below deck who would sleep on bunks solidly packed along the walls of the ship.

 

Lieutenant Gislason was briefing men of the 29th Division aboard LCI – L- 94.  “Make sure you study the location of the pill boxes,” he warned indicating to the huge map behind him.  “The beach will be littered with mines and booby-trap entanglements.” They had been aboard nearly seventy-two hours having set sail on June 3rd, their route from Falmouth where they had embarked being some eighty miles from their landing beach – Omaha.

“I`ve heard that the beach is defended by 2nd rate Germans.”  A young GI told Captain John Hamilton as the men dispersed.  “Old men and those who are battle – weary from the east.”

John smiled at the young lad who looked as though he should still be in high school. He had huge brown eyes and as John set his gaze on him, he could see that his eyes oozed with tears.  “I`m sure you`re right son,” John placated.

“You`re a doctor then?”  The lad asked indicating to the obvious, John`s Red Cross Brassard quite ominous on the left sleeve of his battle dress.

“Yes.”  John smiled.

“I bet you`ll see some sights then.”  His tears were now threatening to fall.  The poor boy was ringing his hands and chewing hard on gum.   “Maybe things won’t be too bad,”  John tried to reassure. ”

“Well, people are bound to get killed – wounded.”  Now a tear did escape, one which the GI swiftly swept away with his index finger.

“Maybe.  But as you said, the beach is defended by old men so perhaps we wont have such a bad time of it.”  John doubted very much if this were true, but thought better of voicing this opinion, not wanting to spoof the young guy anymore than he already was.

“Are you scared?”  The GI asked.

“Course I am.” John answered gently and honestly. “We’re all scared.”  .

“I don’t want to let the guys down,” the GI quivered.  “But I don`t know if I will be able to do it – kill people.”  His bottom lip trembled and he desperately flung his hand across his face in an attempt to hold his composure, his eyes darting around not wanting to be seen crying by his comrades.

John didn’t quite know what to say, this sort of thing better dealt with by the Padre.  But the young guy had confided in him, John being a complete stranger, maybe that it`s why he could.  “I’m sure you’ll be fine son.”  John placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Try not to think about it too much.”

The boy held his head down, tears now running abated down his cheeks.  “Will you … if I get wounded … will you look after me?”

“Course I will.” A sob almost escaped from John.  In an attempt to check himself he repeated, “You’ll be fine son.”

The young guy placed his hand on top of John`s that still rested on his shoulder. His huge pleading brown eyes cut into John`s heart. Managing  a stifled smile, the GI then went on his way.

“Son,” John called after him.  “What`s your name?”

“Abe,” he told him.  “Abe Dlan from Boston.”

John smiled and nodded.  Abe gave a half-hearted wave, nodded and was on his way again, pushing through the bodies of uniforms until he merged and disappeared amongst them.

John sighed heavily and steadied himself, his arm outstretched holding onto the ironwork of a bunk. Head deep into his chest he muttered,  “This damn war – this bloody damn war.”

 

By eleven pm on the 4th June, all of the fleet had now received an order to sail and once again the fleet made its way to the rendevous point of `Piccadilly Circus` just off the Isle of Wight where it would convene and then sail for Normandy.  It would then wait.  Sitting just off the coast –  for the final order to go.

The storm had not abated.

 

 

 

June 3rd 1944 – 2 days to H hour. 70th Anniversary of Dday – Excerpt from my novel

The whole of Preston Road was jammed with military vehicles.  Soldiers, jeeps, even a column of tanks which was ridiculous on this narrow street.  Pressing her nose to the glass of her bedroom window, Violet tried to see where they were going, it was hard to tell but she thought they were heading for Chichester Road.  From the little she could see, her neck stretched to full capacity and standing on the tips of her toes, it looked as though the whole of Chichester Road was jammed up too.  The scene switched on a sensory button in her brain – Jack!

 

“Good luck!” a woman bellowed.  People were clapping and waving, lining the roads as the whole of Portsmouth filled with the whirring of trucks and jeeps and the clanking of column after column of tanks rumbling along on their way to the embarkation points.  Saturday June 3rd had dawned bright and sunny despite the rain of the night before and the crowd cheered in the sunshine.  Jack did not smile at the waving, cheering people.  They only created a haze of misgivings that tore at his soul.

“I`m telling you – this is it, this is the invasion.”  One woman in the crowd told another. Along the jammed roads, houses had signs hung on their doors – Good Luck Boys – Safe and Quick Return – Tea for Sale.  One woman stood in her doorway holding a tray of homemade scones.  “Thanks Missis.” Were the cries from the passing grateful troops as the scones were scooped up and devoured.  Songs – Is it You – and – Ain’t You My Baby blasted out from the passing vehicles. One soldier grabbed a girl from the crowd and swept her along the pavement to the music, swinging her round to the delight of the crowd and planted a hard kiss on her lips.

In the village of Southwick the scene was much the same.  Lottie and Dick stood outside the Golden Lion Inn as the tanks poured past.  “Here love,”Lottie said, stretching as high as her tight skirt would allow.  She unloaded dozens of packets of Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes into the arms of thankful American GI`s.  Dick handed out bottles of beer to the troops standing high in the turrets of tanks and trucks shuttling past.

“Love ya babe,” a GI standing up in his passing truck pronounced to Lottie holding one hand over his heart.  For Lottie these past few months had been a revelation to her.  Her life had been brightened by these cheeky, fresh-faced young Americans.  Wherever these boys are going, Lottie thought, I do hope they come back.

 

Jack`s lorry arrived at the embarkation point along South Pier.  Quartermasters, navy and army officials were organising the loading. Great tanks were rolling onto Landing Craft Tanks (LCT`s.)  Landing Ship Infantry (LSI`s) were loading thousands of troops with hundreds more snaking up the gangplanks.  Smaller landing crafts, anchored closer to the hard, were full of troops carrying bicycles.  Larger Assault Craft (LCA`s) camouflage nets removed, were full of equipment with troops loading onto the craft behind the vehicles.

Jack stood to the entrance of South Pier and looked beyond the melee.  As far as he could see the whole area depicted a froth of khaki.  Inconceivably – hundreds and hundreds of landing craft anchored in the Solent, stretching almost to Gosport, buffeted each other. Lumbering above the implausible scene were the great silver elephantine barrage balloons, a majestic splendour of protection, drifting in defiance of any planes the Luftwaffe might dare impede the area.

It was a sobering moment for Jack as he walked along in line. Although the familiarity of the loading process helped to ease the tension – marshalling and embarkation routine to them now, his heart was thumping.  It was a surreal moment – a realization that this was it – they were really going and nothing was going to stop that. As the men slowly walked up the gangplank and reached the deck of the Empire Battleaxe, the Quartermaster handed each man a leaflet.  An officer asked for their embarkation tags.  He removed one half, a record of how, where and exactly when they had embarked and then gave them back the other half.  Jack placed his half back into his pay book as instructed.  Now a name, rank and number, he felt dehumanised  and for the first time – terribly frightened.

 

At the dockyard. a lone figure standing some way back from the slipway observed the franticness of the embarkation.  He watched, he pondered, he smoked; he belonged in the relics of the past – a young man embarking on the greatest adventure of his life.  To this man, the great chance of adventure had long gone – but he remembered.  He remembered the farewells, the party atmosphere; the tears from the lady who loved him, how proud she was of him.  He remembered how he had longed to fight the Germans to protect his loved ones, his homeland. To him and the many men who left with him, it was a venture matched by no other, a chance to see the world.  But in the stark reality of war, as it so often was, that venture was nothing more than the wholesale slaughter of young souls never to return.  A venture that bore them deprivation of conditions no animal would survive. He remembered the Victoria Cross pinned to his chest.  An heroic act performed from cowardice that no-one at the time had the sense to realise.  His heart would not betray his need for redemption; his heart would neither accept the heroism his family and friends bequeathed upon him either. He remembered the homecoming.  The pride, the admiration, pints placed upon the bar from gathering mates, his back slapped, his head rubbed, all a drunken haze, his nightmares the only witness to his foul deed.   His only way to survive was to shut these people out.  The people who showered him with their respect.  Respect!  Isaac spat on the ground.  How could they?  The man who had left England so young, so happy, so in love, returned broken, dying, withered.

Tears weren’t far away, but they did not fall.  Issac knew somewhere, amongst those thousands of troops embarking all along Portsmouth harbour, were both his sons.  Isaac would never say it, couldn`t say it, but silently as he drew hard on his cigarette, eyes rimmed red, he did say it – within his closed heart. Good luck Jack and Gary – I wish I was with you.  Come home safe.

Jostling and pushing for space on the deck of the ship, Jack silently read the leaflet he had been given.

General Eisenhower`s message to the allied troops