Sunday, 22 September 2019

Memories of D-Day from my childhood

DUE to my father’s enforced absence in the tropics, I lived with my grandparents throughout the Second World War.

Their house was situated on the main road leading to one of the American army’s D-Day embarkation locations on the south coast. Hardly surprisingly, German air raids were common.

For many months before D-Day there was a continuous stream of American armaments passing our home, day and night.

On my way home from school, the soldiers would often give me sweets, a rare treat during rationing, and whistle at my two sisters (who loved the attention while never admitting it). Often one of those friendly American soldiers would see me safely home across the road.

While we were unclear when D-Day would eventually take place, there was evidence from the amount of activity that something special was about to occur.

One day General Eisenhower drove past our home to visit the troops before they left these shores. His long limousine made its way slowly down the street as he waved and smiled at us and we all waved back. It was great excitement for a small boy with two brothers in the services. My generation was the one too young to serve but old enough to remember and some of those memories are very deeply imbedded within me.

In his Gospel, Matthew records Jesus telling us to “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors”. For many, understandably, hatred of the Germans in days of conflict and death was common.

Sometime after D-Day, having been ordered by the Americans to stay in our homes, we witnessed German prisoners of war being marched past us by American solders with fixed bayonets. The prisoners were unshaven, dirty, bedraggled, some stooping, all with heads bowed. They may have been our deadly enemy but now they were just a group of defeated young men and one was compelled to feel sorry for each individual rather than justifiable hatred of the regime that had enthralled them.

Yet the most compelling memory was when the dead were brought back from France. I remember standing in an upstairs bay window and watching the convoy of US military ambulances, each carrying six or eight of the dead.

The convoy seemed endless and the idea of so many young men having died — most, if not all, having passed our home just a few days earlier — was difficult to comprehend.

Maybe one of the dead had held my hand to see me safely across the road or cheerily whistled at my sisters; they were no more. Think of all those back home in a far-off land, never to see their loved one again.

In his Gospel, John reminds us: “There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends.”

While death causes such pain and misery, I will never forget that so many Americans, as good neighbours, laid down their lives for their British friends.

Pertinently, it was Paul who reminds us that “in spite of all, overwhelming victory is ours through Him who loved us”.

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