Dear Dad, It’s the 70th Anniversary of D Day

Dear Dad,

70 Years ago today you were preparing to go to France to fight. It was the day before you left. Your own landing was on what was known as D Day+1. You were a boy, just 19. You’d lied about your age and joined up at aged 16.Image

Today Facebook is flooded with posts saying “Lest We Forget”. The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has made people more aware of the sacrifices young men and women make when they join the Armed Forces and go to lands far from home to fight. Even the Falklands War didn’t do that ,

The losses sustained in the two World Wars were so horrific. Why has it taken so long for people to start remembering what you all went through? Where were they in 1964? On the 20th Anniversary? I lived with you, a man who had been so traumatised by what he had seen and endured, that it had become an obsession. Something you read about, studied, thought about, and talked about, every day for the rest of your life. Yet I don’t remember any mention of anniversaries on TV or the radio. 

On the 50th Anniversary of D Day you stayed in Newhaven, and we found the place where you had spent your last night before embarkation. That evening we took part in a D Day quiz at The Flying Fish. There were officially five people in our team. In fact the only person who answered a question apart from you, was Mum, who hesitatingly said “Was it …..?” when a name wouldn’t come to your mind. The pub was full of teams of men your age, sitting wearing their medals. “We” won that quiz. Thirteen points ahead of the team that came 2nd. The questions you didn’t get right were concerning numbers of aircraft lost, and one question “How many miles of coastline did the Germans have to defend?”…7000 apparently.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that people have started to remember. I have memories of too many Remembrance Days when I have stood in silence with a few others . Many times our two minutes silence broken by idiots sounding car horns or shouting out. On one occasion,in Seaford, a woman Traffic Warden stopped traffic, and forced a two minutes silence.

Now men and women injured in Afghanistan are hailed as heroes, money is raised on their behalf, drinks are bought for them, but I wonder how much has really changed? In 1964, when you, as a Regular Soldier were stationed in Tidworth, you had a letter printed in the local paper. A housing estate had been built, and the builders were having difficulty selling the last few houses. The people who had already bought houses were up in arms because there was a proposal that Army families should use them. (Civilian houses used by the Army are known as hirings, and only families who have proved themselves as clean, respectable well behaved families get hirings). Your letter finished with a quote from Rudyard Kipling:

And it’s Tommy this, and it’s Tommy that,

and it’s ‘kick him out, the brute’.

But it’s ‘Thank you, Mr Atkins’,

when the guns begin to shoot.

You taught me how important it is to remember. You taught me never to walk past a War Memorial without a little pause to remember. You taught me that friendship never dies. You reminded me that every military gravestone represents a young man who is still young, and still serving. Thanks Dad, you taught me what is important. 

I thank God that you survived the war, you didn’t make that ultimate sacrifice, but you, like every other young man that came back, sacrificed your youth, your peace of mind. ‘Thank you for your service’ is something often said now. I don’t believe it was ever said to you and your friends, until you returned to visit the graves of your fallen comrades in Belgium and Holland. People who knew what you had done for them were eager to thank you.

So, on the 70th Anniversary of D Day, Thanks Dad, I like to think that you’re somewhere up there with your friends, watching all the commemoration ceremonies. 

Your loving, and grateful daughter.