Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Longest Day

71 years ago today, the English Channel was filled with ships of all sorts and sizes, almost exactly four years to the day since the little ships had brought back the remains of the BEF from the beaches of Dunkirk.  Dunkirk may have been a defeat, but I still consider that it was the basis of the return journey four years later.  It was what Dunkirk meant to the British people that formed the resolve to win the war, to win at all costs.  The Dunkirk spirit.

There has been much talk about how important it is for the children of today to visit the World War I battlefields in Flanders.  I fully agree, and only wish that it had been brought home to me years ago so that I could have taken my children to see the Last Post ceremony at Ypres.

Equally important, I think, is for children to visit the Normandy beaches.  And this is something I did manage to do.  It was a little more than 30 years ago (if my memory serves) that we rented a cottage in Normandy for the summer half-term week.  The children would have been about 13, 10 and 7.  We took them to see Pegasus Bridge, the mulberry harbour (or what remained of it) at Arromanches - and we visited the vast American war cemetery at St Laurent sur Mer.

That day, just as in the picture (borrowed from Tripadvisor), the Stars and stripes and Tricolor were planted at the foot of each cross as it was just a few days before the anniversary.

I have visited many war cemeteries over the years, mostly British, and each one has the same atmosphere or ambiance.  There is a kind of peace, a peace tinged with both sorrow and pride.  There is a silence, a restful silence.  The cemetery may be beside a main road, but somehow the noise of the traffic is muted.

The day 30 or so years ago, my children commented on the feeling that they were not alone as we walked between the rows but it was only the youngest who found it spooky..

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