10 June 2010

We’re Here Because of Unknown Heroes

My PC is still on its back with its disk drive in the air but hopefully Amazon will deliver a USB network adapter soon and I'll be back to normal. In the meantime, an article from 2007 when we visited the Normandy beaches.

We’re on our third day in Normandy. The weather is mixed but thankfully cooler than the south where the heat has been oppressive for several weeks. The terrain is very similar to southern England with mile after mile of flat fields bounded by hedgerows which could have been transplanted from Kent or Sussex. The plants are also the same (apart from the occasional palm tree) and there are lush green lawns fronting most of the farmhouses, a welcome sight which is absent from the scorched south.

Lynn and Brian have made us most welcome, plying us with copious amounts of food and wine and have ferried us everywhere so the plan about J and me not driving up there worked – although having witnessed the rather more courteous driving style and the quiet country roads, I sometimes wish that I had taken my Alfa.

Picauville, where Brian and Lynn have their beautiful cottage is just inland from where the D-Day landings took place and although I had reservations about visiting the many seaside memorials for the invading forces, we ended up at one today. As I looked out to sea from the sand dunes still populated by German bunkers, I could almost visualise the troops storming ashore to be met by German resistance on the morning of 6th June 1944.

My reservations were based on the fact that I dislike the glorification of war and all the commercialism which generally accompanies and, in my view, trivializes the struggles of others. However, the Utah Beach site which commemorates one of the US landing forces was quite understated and although there was the inevitable shop with tasteless memorabilia, the commercialism was not overdone. No McDonalds or KFC outlets and no garish hotels with neon lights. Just miles and miles of beach where thousands of US soldiers lost their lives as they jumped from their ships and waded ashore in the dawn light. One thinks of the opening sequence from the film Saving Private Ryan and desperately hopes that the film makers overdid the bloody sacrifice which happened on those beaches. As I stood there, and this may surprise those who know me and don’t think I have a serious bone in my body or thought in my head, but as I stood there looking out to sea I tried to imagine myself as a young US infantryman on one of these ships which had carried me to the coast of occupied France. I would see my comrades on other ships landing on the beach and being blown up by mines or being cut down by machine gun fire from the German bunkers and I would be thinking that it’ll be my turn soon. The high command would have worked out the anticipated casualty rate during their planning period but to them this was a statistic – to me this was most probably death and I hoped that it would be quick.

So as I stood there thinking of the 19 year old Private Anonymous and his comrades who were just about to be killed, I thanked them silently and in my own way for their sacrifice. Without them and the thousands of British, Canadian and French troops who stormed the Normandy beaches, fighting a war which many of them would not understand, we Brits would not be enjoying a French countryside in the way we do.

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